Singapore Airlines' Blockchain-Based Loyalty Program Takes Off
Jul 25, 2018 at 00:00 UTC
Singapore Airlines has officially launched its blockchain-based loyalty program for frequent customers.
KrisPay, a digital wallet developed in partnership with KPMG and Microsoft, allows Singapore Airlines customers to turn travel miles into units of payment, which can be used with partner merchants in Singapore. Most notably, however, the newly dubbed KrisFlyer program utilizes a blockchain to underpin its clients' loyalty wallets, according to a press release.
Customers who sign up with the program will be able to download an app to a mobile phone. These customers will then be able to convert their miles into KrisPay units and pay with them by scanning a QR code at partner merchants.
The company announced 18 partners in Singapore, including eateries, beauty parlors, gas stations and some retailers,including the nation's LEGO store outlets. More partners are expected to sign up soon, and the airline says it will offer discounts for early users.
The airline first announced its new blockchain service in February, after conducting a successful proof-of-concept trial with KPMG and Microsoft. The announcement comes a week after the airline was dubbed it was announced the best airline in the world, winning the World Airline Awards by Skytrax in London. This year, SIA outpaced Qatar Airlines, the 2017 winner.
Jul-25-2018 04:12:40 AM
China's Crypto Millionaires Are Using Bitcoin to Buy Real Estate Abroad
Wolfie Zhao and Leigh Cuen
Jul 21, 2018 at 09:30 UTC
The chives growing in one crypto tycoon's California mansion carry a hidden message.
Guo Hongcai, a beef salesman turned early bitcoin adopter from China's Shanxi province, is one of many freshly minted millionaires funneling parts of their wealth out of the country by purchasing real estate abroad.
In April, Hongcai sold 500 bitcoin in the U.S. then used that money to buy a 100,000-square-foot mansion in Los Gatos, a 90-minute drive from San Francisco, California. His Rolls-Royce, also purchased with the fruits of bitcoin arbitrage, sits in the driveway close to a small chives garden.
"It's very normal to sell bitcoin in the U.S. After selling bitcoin, you can just buy anything you want," he told CoinDesk.
Guo calls this secondary residence his "Mansion of Chives," because the vegetable is also Chinese slang for crypto investors who prove vulnerable to big sell-offs.
As Chinese regulators clamp down on industry business on the mainland, crypto millionaires are turning to foreign real estate markets to diversify their holdings. Some purchase property directly with crypto, others like Hongcai use bitcoin to gain foreign currencies without going through a bank.
The founders of one U.S. crypto real estate startup, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told CoinDesk roughly one-third of their prospective users hail from Asia, figures which include Chinese investors seeking tokenized property rights through Hong Kong securities brokers.
According to the South China Morning Post, real estate purchased in Hong Kong doesn't require the same taxes and documentation as other financial assets held abroad. Chinese investment in foreign real estate, often through Hong Kong brokers, has been rising for years. Now early bitcoin adopters are utilizing new wealth for familiar patterns.
"The requests we have from them start at $50,000 or $100,000 up to, the latest one was $3 to $4 million for Silicon Valley," Natalia Karayaneva, CEO of Propy, another crypto-powered real estate marketplace, told CoinDesk.
"We're seeing that more and more people are willing to buy properties with cryptocurrencies because it's getting easier to get their money out of the country using bitcoin, rather than establishing a bank account based in Hong Kong and getting their money out of the country using business channels."
According to Karayaneva, the U.S. and the U.K. are the most sought-after locations for real estate, especially fintech hubs like London or California's Bay Area.
"They were mostly interested in residential properties next to good education, like Stanford," she said. "Also, they want to diversify. They want to have parts of their assets abroad in more stable countries."
So far, around half of the traffic to Propy's website comes from China, out of 50,000 monthly views.
It's a trend that has implications far beyond China, though, especially in California, where, according to statistics gathered over a decade by ATTOM Data Solutions, nearly a quarter of all single-family homes are now purchased in all-cash transactions without a mortgage.
According to CEO Roy Dekel at SetSchedule, a California-based startup helping licensed real estate agents connect with buyers and homeowners, it's more common for Chinese bitcoin veterans to convert cryptocurrency into cash than to buy property directly with it.
"We have noticed a drop in Chinese interest, but certain cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York remain strong," he told CoinDesk. "The ultra-wealthy Chinese have used this source as a diversification of investment."
On the other hand, Dekel also noticed "many blockchain enthusiasts" are buying second homes or investment properties, leading to an uptick in sellers interested in accepting cryptocurrencies directly from international buyers.
Since platforms like Propy are compliant across jurisdictions, the reason behind this trend may go beyond tax evasion, speaking to real pain points in legitimate markets.
In January, The New York Times asserted that China's exorbitant housing market is "like a casino." Further, Reuters reported property development restrictions continue to tighten, such as reduced subsidies for housing developers.
"In Beijing, only last year they saw a 40 percent rise in price," Karayaneva said. "Historically, real estate investors from China are very active abroad because their own property market is going crazy."
All things considered, Chinese buyers are hardly the only ones purchasing property with cryptocurrency. In 2017, Europeans used bitcoin to buy luxury apartments in Dubai's Aston Crypto Plaza, a project spearheaded by British Baroness Michelle Mone.
Wherever it's taking place, though, it has become increasingly clear that crypto wealth could have a real impact on global real estate patterns.
Jul-21-2018 06:17:24 PM
Credit Rating Firm Backs $8 Million Fundraise for Crypto Alternative
Jul 20, 2018 at 00:00 UTC | Updated Jul 20, 2018 at 01:17 UTC
A startup looking to build a credit scoring protocol on top of the recently-launched Ontology blockchain has raised $8 million in seed funding.
POINTS, founded in 2017, said it drew funding from a mix of traditional venture capitalists including Danhua Capital and Ceyuan Ventures, a backer of OKCoin. Other participants in the seed round include the Ontology Foundation as well as Zhong Cheng Xin Credit Technology, China's first nationwide credit rating agency.
The new capital will be used to expand the company's engineering team in an effort to speed up its development of blockchain-based know-your-customer (KYC) and credit scoring applications. The idea is to build its protocol on top of a decentralized network and empower apps that can eliminate repetitive processes around identity.
Sarah Zhang, the founder and chief executive of POINTS, told CoinDesk:
"Currently, whether it's for banking or registering at a crypto exchange, users need to repetitively upload their profiles. Meanwhile, institutions also need to repetitively conduct the KYC process manually, which is time-consuming and leads to a huge data storage on their ends."
But instead of asking financial firms to be validators, who update and share a distributed ledger that contains user ID data, POINT's protocol incorporates another layer of a more centralized database to take up the role as a validator.
To that end, Zhang said the company partnered with an IT firm called Teleinfo, which is is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology. The Academy is directly administrated by the Ministry of Industrial and Information Technology.
The partnership effectively gives POINTS the access to a database of 1 billion profiles of Chinese customers.
Zhang further explained:
"When users voluntarily upload their information through the blockchain application, the database will validate that information ... and then timestamp and store validation results into the blockchain. Therefore, participating nodes such as banks will only see the validated results (for KYC) instead of the exact user details."
In a similar way, POINTS is also charting the development of another blockchain-based application on top of its protocol for credit scoring in a move aimed to "serve the unbanked."
By partnering with its investor Zhong Cheng Xin, Zhang said the company also gains access to 500 million existing credit profiles provided by the rating agency.
With banks running as nodes on the blockchain, the database can extract credit data of a user from different institutions as well as from user's own submission, in order to compute a credit score, which is subsequently stored on the blockchain.
"The end goal is to give a user a credit profile as complete as possible so that they can access to financial products that otherwise may not be available," she added.
And to incentivize user data submission, Zhang said the system will issue its own tokens but has not yet decided exact utility scenarios or whether the token can be traded.
Jul-20-2018 04:20:14 AM
$20K in Crypto: The First Bets on Prediction Market Augur Just Paid Out
Jul 19, 2018 at 03:27 UTC
Augur, a decentralized platform for creating predictions markets, just hit a major milestone.
"The first markets have successfully resolved," the project tweeted Wednesday. Payments of ether worth around $20,000 are now going out to the first brave crop of users, who used the betting platform without knowing for sure whether it would work as advertised.
The handful of early markets "seem to have resolved fine," Augur co-founder Joey Krug told CoinDesk. "A few [user interface] bugs I saw but nothing major."
Augur is a peer-to-peer platform where anyone can pose any question for anyone else to bet money on, such as the result of an election or the price of an asset on a given date.
It went live on ethereum last week, nearly three years after the initial coin offering (ICO) that funded its development concluded. Two of those years were spent in rigorous beta testing, which – so far – appear to have paid off, since the application has experienced only minor hiccups.
Only a couple of the markets that have now settled had any money staked on their outcomes. The most valuable market was for the outcome of the France-Belgium World Cup semifinal game. (France won).
More than one user in a community forum expressed relief and congratulated the Augur team on Wednesday.
One of these, Kitsana Dounglomchan, confirmed that he'd received the ether fees he was owed – users earn these fees for creating or reporting the outcome of a prediction market – as well as the "reputation" or REP tokens he'd staked. If users report an incorrect outcome, they risk losing their REP tokens, so there's an incentive to tell the truth.
"Hats off to the entire Augur team," Dounglomchan wrote.
Just getting started
The first round of market settlements on Augur was relatively small, Krug said, because "it was basically only markets where the event actually happened in the first 17 hours or so after launch."
Krug estimated that just over $20,000 worth of ether had been paid out, based on data from Predictions.Global, a site that displays Augur betting markets. He did not include the value of REP token stakes.
The amount of money staked on Augur prediction markets has ballooned in recent days. Predictions.Global shows 1,963 ether in total "open interest," worth nearly $1 million at the time of writing. That figure has nearly tripled since Monday.
For that reason, Krug believes the next round of settlements will far exceed this week's total. He told CoinDesk:
"Next week should be bigger."
Jul-19-2018 08:59:40 AM
Bitcoin Price Risks Pullback Before Testing $8K Again
Bitcoin (BTC) could be in for a minor price pullback, having clocked a 39-day high above $7,500 earlier today, technical charts indicate.
The leading cryptocurrency rose to $7,562 on Bitfinex at 03:00 UTC and was last seen changing hands at $7,400 – up nearly 10 percent on a 24-hour basis. Further, the price rally has pushed the week-on-week gains higher to 15 percent.
On Tuesday, BTC crossed the inverse head-and-shoulders neckline resistance of $6,838 with strength, confirming a short-term bearish-to-bullish trend change.
So, a rally to $7,900 (inverse head-and-shoulders breakout target) could be on the cards. However, the move may not happen in the next 24 hours as the retreat from $7,562 to $7,370 indicates the bulls are keen on booking profits, having pushed BTC higher by more than $1,300 in the last 72 hours.
Further, the technical charts are also reporting intraday overbought conditions, meaning a price pullback could be in the offing before the rally continues. Moreover, investors who missed the initial move higher would have the opportunity to board the BTC freight train on any price pullback.
A minor correction, if it occurs, could end up recharging the engines for a sustained rally to $7,900–$8,000.
The above chart shows BTC has pulled back from near 100-day moving average (MA) hurdle of $7,613. Still, the bias remains bullish as the cryptocurrency has found acceptance above the 50-day MA.
The short-term moving averages (5-day, 10-day) are rising in favor of the bulls and the 5-day MA has cut the 50-day MA from below, confirming a bullish crossover.
What's more, the relative strength index (RSI) has also adopted a bullish bias (above 50.00).
As a result, BTC is more likely to extend the rally to $7,900–$8,000 in the short-run and confirm a successful reentry in the pennant pattern. That would be a major blow to BTC bears as the bearish pennant breakdown in June had signaled a revival of the sell-off from the record high of $20,000 reached in December.
A move back inside the pennant pattern would signal a long-term bearish invalidation. Meanwhile, a break above the pennant resistance, currently seen at $8,210, would strengthen the odds of a long-run bullish reversal.
The RSI is beginning to roll over from the overbought territory (above 80.00) and the price pullback will likely gather pace if RSI drops below support at 58.00. Hence, we are unable to rule out a drop in BTC prices to $7,000.
That said, the dip is expected to be short-lived as the 50-hour MA, 100-hour MA, and 200-hour MA is located one above the other, indicating the path of least resistance is to the upside.
BTC price is seen rallying to $8,000 in the short-run, albeit after a healthy pullback to $7,000.
The technical correction will likely help BTC chart a more sustainable rally to $8,000.
Only a daily close (as per UTC) below $6,839 (inverse head-and-shoulders neckline) would abort the bullish view.
A close below $6,080 (July 12 low) would shift risk in favor of a drop to $5,755 (June 24 low).
Jul 18, 2018 at 11:00 UTC | Updated Jul 18, 2018 at 11:20 UTC
Jul-18-2018 11:28:02 PM
Democracy of Two: NEO and the Crypto 'Election' That Wasn't
What constitutes an election?
According those backing ethereum competitor neo, just one candidate and two voters.
The public blockchain project, whose tokens are valued at over $2 billion by crypto investors, went so far as to claim in a July 4 blog post that it had entered a "new era" in which its token holders will have a say in how decisions on the network are made, but even insiders are skeptical such assertions are little more than rhetoric.
Case in point, the NEO Foundation, which develops software for neo, announced this month that it had elected the first node to its network, a foundation-funded collective of NEO developers calling themselves City of Zion. Less publicized at the time, however, was that token holders were not allowed to participate in that vote.
As such, even those running the newly elected node aren't exactly convinced that neo is fully committed to running its blockchain with broad participation from users, at least at this time.
"I would personally disagree with calling it an election," Ethan Fast, a member of the City of Zion team, told CoinDesk in an interview. "That's not a word I would choose."
More broadly, such a conclusion is instructive in that neo is one of a growing number of public blockchains seeking to implement a more centralized model for how blockchains can be managed. Called delegated byzantine fault tolerance (dBFT), neo's specific idea is that by consolidating decision-making to a small group of nodes, the software can become faster and more useful.
Its a break from bitcoin's mining model in which any node operator who abides by the rules can compete to approve transactions, and one that has seen a handful of projects including EOS and Tron raise billions with big promises that it can prove viable.
In this way, neo, which has close ties to blockchain solutions company Onchain and the public Ontology project, has adopted technology it believes will address scalability issues — specifically, slow transaction speeds and controversial network upgrades.
"[The] NEO Council values efficiency (quick response and protocol upgrade) over decentralization (sometimes a crypto-political correctness) at this early stage," the project's governing body, now called the NEO Foundation, explained in a May post.
However, neo is perhaps unique in that it hasn't provided much in the way of details on how it aims to do this in a way that will add up to the democratic process its touts.
Neo's white paper and website do not provide a detailed description of its governance model, and further, the foundation has said in blog posts that it plans to maintain "decision-making power" until the "core protocol stabilizes," though it has not defined what criteria constitute stability.
Once the foundation is confident in the strength of the network, it says it "expect[s] to see one to a few dozens of consensus nodes to be elected by NEO holders." But before token holders are able to vote for candidates, the foundation plans to "elect" several private nodes, of which City of Zion is one.
A 'benevolent oligarchy'
That might be one reason why other supporting language issued by the foundation has positioned the election as the first step in a long process to relinquish some of its power to token holders.
Still, the NEO Foundation's use of the term "election" to describe the process by which City of Zion became a node at all has triggered some skepticism.
While "election" would arguably imply that a multiplicity of votes were cast, blog posts suggest that the NEO Foundation is currently the only voting entity in the ecosystem. City of Zion's Fast confirmed that "there was no one from the public that voted in this election besides the NEO Foundation." Likewise, of the foundation, only project co-founders Da Hongfei and Erik Zhang have the authority to make decisions, according to another blog post.
As such, Fast instead described NEO as "a kind of benevolent oligarchy," and said that the community has been frustrated that the foundation has been slow to surrender some of its decision-making power.
"Just a small amount of decentralization in the short term is something CoZ has been pushing for for some time," he said, adding that it "may not be happening as fast as [the community] want[s]."
Dean Eigenmann, founder of blockchain governance startup Harbour, was more critical of the foundation's "election."
"Libya had elections under Gaddafi, too," he said, explaining further of the project:
"It just seems so uninteresting because it's like they aren't even trying to decentralize their governance. They were like, hmm this seems too hard. Let's just keep it centralized."
Degrees of democracy
NEO is not the only project to be criticized for how it is going about the election of nodes.
Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin warned in March that blockchains that use "coin voting" seem "to lead to a high risk of economic or political failure of some kind." Likewise, Kyle Samani, managing partner at crypto fund Multicoin Capital, wrote on Twitter in June that EOS and Tezos, two other project seeking to compete on governance, are both "plutocracies."
However, Richard Lee, founding partner at crypto fund Global Blockchain Innovative Capital took a more flexible position in an interview with CoinDesk, arguing that "there's different levels of decentralization."
"I think the different consensus protocols, at least right now, there's trade offs in between. Sometimes you have to sacrifice decentralization for speed and efficiency or security," he said, adding:
"Neo's trying to address scalability in a different way than ethereum is... Neo has a more centralized approach for that."
Lee said he interpreted the foundation's use of "election," "as more of, the NEO Foundation does not run all the nodes now," and added, "I don't see anything malicious or deceitful about that."
Some participants in neo community forums were nonetheless skeptical of the election, with one reddit user posting, "Decentralization goes way beyond the amount of nodes. It has to do with governance and decision making. If you still have a central entity deciding new features, etc you cannot become fully decentralized."
However, other comments reflected Lee's conclusion about the election, with many participants greeting the announcement of the election with enthusiasm.
Whether neo will follow through on its promise to empower token holders remains to be seen.
According to a timeline published in a blog post, the foundation plans to elect Dutch telecommunications company and neo partner KPN and Chinese venture capital firm Fenbushi Capital to operate the next privately held nodes in the network by the end of 2018. It intends to allow token holders to both vote for and campaign to become nodes in 2019.
The NEO Foundation did not respond to requests for comment.
Jul 18, 2018 at 04:00 UTC | Updated Jul 18, 2018 at 11:51 UTC
Jul-18-2018 02:39:45 PM