Whoami? I’m unique, dude (or why blockchain is useful for provenance)

A review of the critiques made about using blockchain for proving provenance and authenticity

This post is an answer to a blockchain critique from Sebastien Meunier. I think it’s good when people try to take some distance from hype. Well, except when they’re saying something obviously wrong for the sake of making an argument.

The issue with crypto, summarized
Counterfeiting is a billion euro issue, in many sectors (source: EUIPO)
The article we review

Summarizing the critique

The original article says:

Reasons a) to e) of why the provenance problem is not a blockchain problem. Do they stand?
Source: www.dustidentity.com
The case against VeChain — reason f

What is true about the critique

Let’s start with the wine (reason f), as it gives a real life example everyone can understand easily. Again the problem is huge. Being French, you can imagine how pressing this is an issue ;-)

source: EUIPO
I love the title : “VeChain Now Helping China to Regulate its Wine Industry”. Yeah, what would we do without VeChain?
Scan and see the product history: wine master as a service !! (level 1)

Issue 1: the oracle problem

Linking blockchains to the real world is arguably a difficult task (even theorically), known as the oracle problem (see for instance, chainlink or witnet or this blog post for a general overview of why that’s difficult).

Issue 2: physical protections (such as QRcode or NFC) protections can be broken or bypassed

That’s not even complex to do in most cases, many hacks exist. There are actually many competing technologies that try to enforce authenticity.

IBM crypto tag (source: IBM research)
I like my diamond sneakers, very stylish. I bet you won’t have the same (source: US patent 2019/0095668)

Issue 3: wine is about the liquid

The case of wine is even more complex: there’s a bottle. But what I’m really interested in is actually the liquid inside the bottle. When you buy the forged wine in the restaurant, it may actually come from an original casing from a Grand Cru (so a legitimate bottle), but the wine put inside the bottle has been replaced. Therefore, even with VeChain as described (and supposing no one actually breaks the physical protection, see issue 2), the counterfeiter may buy a single real bottle and sell a forged content many times over.

Wine master level 2 (source: newscientist) — well we turned to whisky, we obviously need it to be strong

Issue 4: wine is about the user experience

Ever tried to make your grandma use a blockchain app? Good luck. The problem is that she invited you and insists on paying the bill, so she needs to be sure whether that wine is for real.

What woudn’t you do for a glass of wine?
Source: skeptic comments on the EE Times

Issue 5: who pays?

Well, this brings us directly to a last issue. Last but not least. Suppose we do find a perfect technical setup.

Authenticity is so important that it comes at the top of the page (source: Vestiaire Collective home page)

intermediary score (reason f): sbmeunier: 1 / blockchain: 0

Reviewing reasons a-e

As a reminder, Sebastien Meunier extends the previous argument to product provenance and certification of diplomas (such as BCDiploma Official). So let’s review them one by one:

intermediary score: sbmeunier: 1 / blockchain: 1

intermediary score: sbmeunier: 1 / blockchain: 2

intermediary score: sbmeunier: 1 / blockchain: 3

intermediary score: sbmeunier: 1 / blockchain: 4

Source : sovrin
  • In the case of Harvard, would they respond to any request from a recruiter or a linkedIn viewer? A ledger provides the infrastructure to respond automatically to those verification requests.

total score: sbmeunier: 1 / blockchain: 5

Acknowledging that basic certificates can be a temporary fix
Counter-examples?
The mediledger network

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