Cointelegraph By Greg Thomson
Brave, the privacy-centric web browser built on Basic Attention Token (BAT), more than doubled the size of its user base over the course of 2020. The browser’s monthly active users increased from 11.6 million to 25.4 million, according to a recent press release.
Brave blocks ads and stops websites from tracking users’ movements around the internet while rewarding them with BAT tokens for the attention they do choose to give to advertisers. These tokens can be used to reward content creators and publishers via the browser’s in-built wallet or can be exchanged for other cryptocurrencies.
The browser’s daily active user count climbed a similar amount, rising from 3.8 million to 8.6 million — a 126% increase. Meanwhile, the number of verified content creators crossed the 1 million mark, representing those who have chosen to accept Basic Attention Token as advertising revenue for their work.
Co-founder and CEO of Brave Brendan Eich said the browser’s swelling user base was a sign that more people wanted to “opt out of the surveillance economy,” adding:
“25 million people have made the switch to Brave in order to protect their privacy and to regain control of their browsing experience. Users are realizing that a new way to browse the Web is just one click away with a seamless Brave download, and that they can opt out of the surveillance economy and instead get rewarded for browsing.”
Brave appears to have benefitted from a growing movement of internet users who are seeking to retain their privacy rather than have their every movement tracked, analyzed and sold for profit. Eich said the “global privacy movement” would grow in the coming year as Big Tech continues to tighten its grip on the internet.
“As the global privacy movement swells in 2021 and as less users trust Big Tech, we look forward to bringing more innovative privacy-protecting tools to our users, and to reforming invasive Web tracking practices,” said Eich.
The quest for Bitcoin scalability through layer two protocols
Cointelegraph By Osato Avan-Nomayo
As the largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization, Bitcoin’s (BTC) effectiveness as a medium of exchange is still a matter for debate. Unlike fiat money that is inherently infinite in supply and must be managed by a central bank, Bitcoin is akin to gold in that it is commodity money with a finite supply of 21 million.
However, the supply cap is not the major stumbling block for BTC as a medium of exchange, but rather, the transaction throughput. While Satoshi Nakamoto envisioned Bitcoin as a peer-to-peer electronic cash system capable of facilitating online payments without a central counterparty, seven transactions per second on average is hardly the standard for scalability.
Indeed, scalability is only one of three major metrics required for any currency system to succeed as a medium of exchange along with adoption and liquidity. There is an argument to be made of Bitcoin’s growing adoption around the world across several strata of the global economy.
Price volatility that has seen Bitcoin peak at $58,000 and then briefly fall below the $30,000 mark within the first two months of 2021 likely indicates lingering issues with liquidity. However, it’s important to note that the current period is being characterized by a bullish advance that began in October 2020. Ultimately, some analysts expect Bitcoin’s volatility to level out as more institutions take up positions in the market.
What do the critics say?
Bitcoin’s scalability problem is even older than the network itself. Indeed, upon first proposing the system back in 2008, James A. Donald replied to Satoshi Nakamoto with: “The way I understand your proposal, it does not seem to scale to the required size.”
This astute observation has been at the heart of some of the more contentious and controversial debates within the Bitcoin ecosystem. Disagreements over how to solve the problem have even resulted in multiple hard forks.
These days, when Bitcoin critics cannot definitively dismiss BTC’s store of value proposition, scalability seems to be a low-hanging fruit with which to craft some anti-Bitcoin soundbite. Speaking during the 2021 Daily Journal annual shareholders meeting, Berkshire Hathaway vice-chairman Charlie Munger remarked that Bitcoin will never become a global medium of exchange due to its price volatility.
The 97-year-old billionaire investor is no stranger to espousing anti-Bitcoin sentiments. Indeed, together with Warren Buffett, the two Berkshire Hathaway chiefs have been responsible for some of the more colorful negative remarks among Bitcoin. From being “rat poison squared” to “trading turds,” Munger once slammed BTC investors for celebrating the life and work of Judas Iscariot.
Munger, like Buffett, is among a class of Wall Street Bitcoin critics who have often claimed that Bitcoin has no intrinsic value. However, with the price of BTC continuing its relentless upward advance over the past decade while attracting significant institutional interest, detractors now seem to be left with only the scalability argument.
Even among mainstream crypto adopters, Bitcoin’s inability to scale at the base protocol level also seems to be a significant issue. In an address during the Future of Money conference back in February, Mastercard executive vice chair Ann Cairns declared that BTC was not suited to its crypto payment plans.
According to Cairns: “Bitcoin does not behave like a payment instrument […] It’s too volatile and it takes too long to transact.” As previously reported by Cointelegraph, Mastercard recently announced plans to offer support for cryptocurrency payment on its network.
Lightning Network node count rises, but slowly
Together with the 10-minute block creation time, the one-megabyte block size acts as the actual transaction throughput constraint for the Bitcoin network. The block size debate of 2017 that ultimately led to the Bitcoin Cash hard fork proved the adamance of Bitcoin purists to the 1MB block size ethos.
With the “big blockers” now firmly on their own Bitcoin forks like BCH and Bitcoin SV, the question of how to get BTC to scale without changing a thing on the protocol level still lingers. From Bitcoin banks to sidechain protocols, and even deferred settlement infrastructure layers like the Lightning Network, several developmental projects are currently ongoing to make Bitcoin more suitable for microtransactions like paying for coffee.
At a high level, these scaling solutions involve the creation of trustless, centralized (pardon the oxymoron) entities or layer-two networks that maintain lightweight versions of the BTC ledger to handle the actual “coin” transfers without having to maintain the full Bitcoin ledger. These sidechain implementations then transmit the transaction data for final settlement on the actual Bitcoin network.
LN is one of the major Bitcoin scaling solutions under active development by several organizations including Blockstream and Elizabeth Stark’s Lightning Labs. The Lightning Network is perhaps the most popular of the “defer-reconcile” scaling implementations that allow users to create payment channels that offer instant coin transfers at minimal fees.
According to data from LN data aggregator 1ML, there are over 17,300 public Lightning Network nodes and more than 38,400 channels. LN capacity is currently north of 1,100 BTC.
While LN adoption is yet to attain significant heights, layer-two implementation might be about to get a boost with Zap — a Visa-backed Lightning Network payments startup. In February, the company launched Strike — a payments and remittance app that utilizes the Lightning Network for payments.
Strike has also partnered with crypto exchange platform Bittrex to deliver LN-powered payments to over 200 countries around the world. The company plans to issue Strike Visa cards to users in the United States as well as in Europe and the United Kingdom before the end of the year.
What about Statechains?
There is a school of thought that argues Bitcoin scalability is only possible via layer-two solutions. Ruben Somsen, Bitcoin developer, crypto podcaster and founder of the Seoul Bitcoin meetup, is one of the proponents of this argument.
Somsen is an advocate of Statechains, another layer-two implementation but with a twist — transaction participants send private keys instead of actual unspent transaction output, or UTXO. The process involves loading a Statechain-compatible wallet with the exact BTC sum required for the trade followed by the transfer of the private keys from the sender to the recipient.
Since transferring private keys across the blockchain is fee-less and instant, the Statechain idea seems to have gained some traction within the Bitcoin scalability discussion. However, revealing private keys comes with significant security implications.
Thus, in recent times, the Statechain concept has been modified to include a third entity that acts as an intermediary between the transacting parties. Detailing the workings of this counterparty federation within the Statechain matrix, Somsen told Cointelegraph:
“Statechains allow you to take your coins off-chain (meaning cheap transactions) in a way that puts a minimum amount of trust in others. You have to trust a federation, but the federation won’t know that they are getting partial control of your coins, and they can’t refuse peg-outs (moving back to the Bitcoin blockchain).”
Blockchain infrastructure firm CommerceBlock is one of the companies actively developing Statechains as a viable scalability solution for Bitcoin. The firm is credited with introducing the counterparty federation or “Statechain entity” to improve the security of the system. In a conversation with Cointelegraph, CommerceBlock CEO Nicholas Gregory outlined how Statechains operate:
“At a high level, Statechains are simply a way to transfer your private key to another user. To facilitate this, you have to cooperate with a Statechain entity. However, at all times, the user has full control of their funds; at any anytime, they can withdraw their Bitcoin to their own custody. Therefore, the transfer is instant and private.”
While Statechains is a scalability solution on its own, some proponents agree that the system could integrate with the Lightning Network. With Statechains operating on the UTXO level, it is theoretically possible for another layer-two protocol such as the Lightning Network to be implemented on top of Statechains.
Such a hybrid integration could solve the limited node capacity issue of Lightning Network while ensuring the ability to facilitate multiple microtransactions via Statechains. Since the exact transaction amount is loaded into Statechain wallets, it’s impossible to split UTXOs making Statechain in its present iteration unsuitable for microtransactions.
According to Somsen, the Statechains can operate independently as well as function together with the Lightning Network: “Statechains complement the Lightning Network perfectly because opening and closing channels can happen off-chain. This removes a lot of the friction that exists in the current Lightning Network design.”
For Gregory, integrating Statechains with the Lightning Network is among the future developmental plans for CommerceBlock: “Statechains are instant and do not require liquidity lock up; however, you are sending the private key, so you can’t do small or specific denominations. This is where LN excels.”
With these developments and more, the quest for a workable Bitcoin scalability solution is still ongoing. While critics, like Munger, who have been consistently wrong about BTC, continue to drop soundbites, developers are hard at work to solve one of the longest-running operability issues concerning Bitcoin.
Decentralized finance may be the future, but education is still lacking
Cointelegraph By Piers Ridyard
Engaging in the traditional financial markets has become less appealing to consumers and institutional investors as of late. New opportunities are plentiful, with decentralized finance getting a lot of attention. However, that new movement is not without its risks and flaws, either.
For decades, consumers and institutional investors have explored the many different options presented to them in the financial world. This approach has worked out rather well, as one could even earn passive revenue on their savings account. Today, things look very different, as many banks charge negative interest rates and continue to exploit their customers.
Another problem compounding the lessening appeal of centralized finance is the ongoing impediments in the industry. More specifically, banks are forced to settle lawsuits regularly, mostly due to their wrongdoing. This ranges from opening accounts for clients without their knowledge, masking products under different names while providing the same service, money laundering and so forth.
Despite all of this, many people remain loyal to their banks or other financial institutions. Or that used to be the case, as decentralized finance has a lot of people interested today. Unlike traditional finance, DeFi has no exorbitant fees, unfair terms or financial exclusion. Instead, it is a movement that aims to bring financial services to everyone regardless of their current access to these products.
Making DeFi more accessible
While it may seem as if decentralized finance is destined to disrupt traditional finance, there is still a lot of work to be done. In its current state, DeFi primarily caters to users who have sufficient knowledge of the cryptocurrency market. Unfortunately, the crypto industry remains a niche market even today despite prices for Bitcoin (BTC) and Ether (ETH) moving up quickly in the past few months.
In fact, there are no viable guides on how to prepare yourself for these new financial opportunities. Every existing guide assumes the reader already knows the ins and outs of cryptocurrency, which is usually not the case.
Education is the first big step
Wading through the complex nature of DeFi requires clear and concise education. There is a rising need for educational platforms that address beginner levels of investing. Publications contributing educational content around DeFi noted significant growth throughout 2020 and early 2021. Educational initiatives have a goal to lower entry barriers to decentralized finance by educating people on cryptocurrency and the opportunities the broader industry provides. Ultimately, a good goal for DeFi would be for 100 million more people to have deposited at least $1 each into decentralized finance by 2025. It may seem like an easy goal, yet convincing millions of people to partake in this industry isn’t easy. Many people remain unconvinced by cryptocurrencies in general, and they will likely feel the same about DeFi.
We as an industry need to acknowledge that things need to improve to be taken more seriously by the masses. Making a global impact with complex structures and technologies and requiring the use of cryptocurrencies warrants clear and concise education.
A big catalyst for launching more educational initiatives now is the recent r/Wallstreetbets and GameStop saga. People worldwide suddenly found themselves in a position of power to make the financial market dance to their tunes. It depicts the need to make financial markets accessible to everyone, yet the current financial industry doesn’t always allow this to happen. This became apparent when the trading of GameStop stocks was halted by several providers to protect larger investors. It serves as an excellent example of how unfair the financial industry can be.
Creating a level playing field
At its core, the financial sector can operate without gatekeepers or centralized intermediaries. The DeFi industry has shown that this is possible, even though the industry is still in its early stages. Creating an environment where anyone can safely borrow, lend and trade directly is possible, but the educational aspect needs to come first.
As the public perception of traditional finances keeps taking blows to the chin, it is a matter of time until large groups begin exploring other horizons. Investing in cryptocurrencies has given many a taste of what financial freedom can entail. However, it is crucial to understand that this is only the first step along a long road toward achieving that freedom.
There is a lot more to DeFi than just owning Bitcoin, Ether or any other crypto assets. While that does grant one access to decentralized finance, the educational initiatives led by industry leaders will help explain how you can use these assets for more than speculative purposes. Through education, research and guidance, a new era of finance may just be around the corner.
This article does not contain investment advice or recommendations. Every investment and trading move involves risk, and readers should conduct their own research when making a decision.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Piers Ridyard is the CEO of Radix, the decentralized finance protocol. A Y Combinator Alumni, Piers joined Radix after exiting his previous company, which built DLT-based deal rooms for clearing syndicated insurance contracts.
Fetch.ai (FET) hits a 2-year high after DeFi integration and Bosch partnership
Cointelegraph By Jordan Finneseth
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are changing the face of commerce, computing and other technologies on a daily basis.
In its most basic form, the information gathered by artificial intelligence is really just data that can be used to make interpretations and blockchains are built for the storage and transmission of data.
Fetch.ai (FET) is a “Cambridge-based artificial intelligence lab” that has the goal of using distributed ledger technology to build a decentralized machine learning platform capable of securely transacting any form of data globally.
Data from Cointelegraph Markets and TradingView shows that the price of FET has surged 720% since the start of 2021 and this week the altcoin hit a new yearly high at $0.40.
Partnership announcements and DeFi integrations drive adoption
A scroll through the project’s Twitter feed shows that excitement began building at the end of January when Fetch.ai started tweeting about its Mettalex (MTLX) project, which is a decentralized exchange (DEX) for the Fetch.ai ecosystem that specializes in bringing “autonomous and intelligent oracles” to DeFi.
Given that DeFi is another rapidly emerging sector, FET’s inclusion in it was followed by a notable increase in trading volume.
As part of the Mettalex launch, FET tokenholders were given the option to stake their tokens on the platform for 3 months and earn a 10% yield which will be paid in MTLX tokens.
Momentum for the project continued to build throughout February following several high-profile partnerships, most notably a deal with Bosch Group to help the platform launch a multi-purpose blockchain project designed to enable Web 3.0.
While the blockchain project has been in a testnet since October 2020, the upcoming mid-March release appears to be on track based on the following tweet from the Fetch.ai team:
— Fetch.ai (@Fetch_ai) March 5, 2021
The follow-up release of the project’s first native application in the App store indicates that the expansion of the Fetch.ai ecosystem is just beginning, and record transaction and trading volumes signal that there is growing interest in the AI-focused protocol.
The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cointelegraph.com. Every investment and trading move involves risk, you should conduct your own research when making a decision.
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