Why talk of Bitcoin and Blockchain in the context of events?

Because identity management is and will increasingly become a critical topic, online and offline–and identity management is precisely what some of the more recent variants of blockchain technology address most effectively. Extending as a corollary to identity management is event security–one of the top five topics on the minds of exhibition organizers. Security is directly linked to who is physically present at your venue, and I intend to demystify the relationship between cryptographically linked chains of data, and bag searches at your events. I will also touch upon the topic of transaction processing and fraud, which according to the latest industry publications is also top of mind for most organizers.

Merkle trees, hash trees (no, not the ones you can smoke), proof-of-stake and public ledgers are terms that need not enter your vocabulary in order for you to use blockchain technologies. You don’t need to know how to purchase T-bonds (from the US Federal Reserve) or to memorize your BIC, SWIFT or ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 country code in order to go about your daily purchasing at Peet’s. And incidentally– you don’t need to memorize any hash key, wallet address, or cryptographic token either, to use Bitcoin.

Now that the scary stuff is out of the way and I’ve convinced you that you will be eventually using blockchain technologies in a casual way, built into some of the most common services that you benefit from in your daily life, you may ask–What can the benefits be?

There are plenty of articles about the benefits of Blockchain relating to fixing the finance industry (that looming, unavoidable, exponentially-worse-than-2008 financial market collapse), about securing assets such as land with a land-registry Blockchain in corruption-prone countries, about creating decentralized, secure applications for the sharing economy (eBay, Uber, Airbnb, and Facebook). But what about events?

Event tech startups are typically early-bird proponents of new game-changing software platforms, whether it be in commerce, finance, event registration, ticketing or lead management. Pushing the envelope on iBeacon and NFC (check out how Poken was ahead of the game on these ones), dabbling in Augmented Reality (check out Why Pokemon Go Will Not Be the Next Big Thing for Your Event ), and taking position on wearables and iWatch (see my article here), I say now is the time to start talking Blockchain.

Blockchain is a distributed, incorruptible (cryptographically secured), digital ledger of transactions. Bitcoin is but one variant, used solely as a vehicle for financial exchanges;  but Bitcoin Blockchain has proven its incorruptibility, and that has brought mainstream attention to this new way of performing shared tasks.

Additional and near-mainstream embodiments of blockchain technology include Ethereum and EOS.io, which represent a leap forward in terms of supporting self-actualizing contracts and anonymized encrypted information storage. Ethereum, also referred to as “The World Computer,” is the most evolved Blockchain, upon which most new “blockchain related” services are built. It provides a peer-to-peer network of nodes that compile and run applications built using a new programming language called Solidity, supporting a highly secure new form of computing, and storing data reliably.

Tackling Blockchain Event Tech

Some of us who are deeply involved in the technologies that support registration, payments, and other mundane but critical tasks relating to exhibitions are already involved in building software systems that need to comply with GDPR–General Data Protection Regulation. GDPR was voted by the European Commission back in 2015 and is mandatory as of 2018 (US-centric event tech suppliers beware!). It promises to “strengthen and unify data protection for individuals within the European Union (EU), whilst addressing the export of personal data outside the EU.” The primary objective of GDPR is to give citizens back control of their personal data, which is precisely what blockchain-driven architecture is best at.

To give you a sense of how important GDPR is to the global world of events: according to AUMA (the Association of German Trade Fair Industry), Germany is home to half of the world’s top ten highest-grossing exhibition organizers.  Just five of 31 exhibition firms with revenues over EUR 100 million have their headquarters outside of Europe: Emerald Expositions, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, Coex, Tokyo Big Sight, and SNIEC Shanghai.

Identity Management. As the voting in one of Europe’s GDPR directive indicates, there is a need for better identity management on the web. The ability to verify your identity is the lynchpin of financial and other types of transactions that happen online. Using Distributed Ledger cryptographic technologies offers enhanced methods for proving who you are, along with the possibility to digitize and secure personal information.

Today, in exchange for their personal data (identity data and activity data), people are able to use social media platforms and many other online tools “for free.” In a proper, secure, identity-managed future, users could have the ability not only to manage and restrict access to their personal data but also to monetize it if they wish. Their identity (age, sex, marital status, hobbies, etc.) and the online activity profile is valuable to marketers who seek to learn from such information and also provide targeted services.

In the future, online identity and reputation will be decentralized. Some researchers at MIT have launched a project called Enigma, whereby user privacy is the key precondition fuelling the creation of a personal data marketplace. Enigma uses cryptographic techniques to allow individual data sets to be split between computational systems (called “nodes”), and at the same time run bulk computations over the data group as a whole–achieving true anonymous data mining.

Exhibition and conference businesses depend highly on obtaining information about participants, both for learning purposes and to generate sponsorship and lead- generation revenue. A blockchain-based event registration and lead management system must find the right balance between respecting privacy and responding to business model imperatives. (For more information about blockchain-based identity management read this post.)

Event Security. Having a secure identity is important not only for online transactions but also for real-world events. IAEE published a Future Trends Report in 2016, listing physical venue security concerns within the top 5 elements impacting exhibition-industry executives, and announcing the launch of the Exhibitions and Meetings Safety and Security Initiative (EMSSI). How can blockchain technologies such as those built on top of Solidity – the Ethereum programming – help address the challenges relating to venue security?

Much like LinkedIn provides trust and security through validating personal one-to-one network connections, Blockchain can provide anonymized trust, since the ledger of past transactions of an anonymous entity (person) is publicly viewable and traceable. For business purposes, we build trust online through direct or shared connections on LinkedIn, though this requires publishing a public profile that our peers validate through agreeing to connect.

Imagine event registration and on-site access control where an anonymized trust network provides the basis for event attendees to pass through “priority lanes” avoiding bag searches and scans, so the security personnel can focus on new and unknown entities. A good reputation, after all, is the most important condition for conducting transactions – imagine a world where reputation can be built and conserved, all without exhibiting private information online, or to the venue/security personnel, or to the organizer.

Transaction Processing and Fraud Prevention. Ethereum, “The World Computer,” is like a chip card (your secure, digital payment card) in a world of ticket purchasing that’s still functioning as in the Lydian Empire (580 BC), the first coin-producing kingdom on record. With Ethereum you can make an access control credential (like a scannable QR Code) appear on a digital ticket only minutes before an event opens, or as the visitors approach the convention center, avoiding the selling of copycat PDF tickets.

Blockchain also allows tracking who is attending events–from the issuance and initial purchase of a ticket, to who actually holds that entry pass when they walk into the venue. This has critical applications in event big-data processing, and ensures that no centralized version of this information exists for a hacker to tap into, copy, or corrupt.

Now that you have learned a few basics about digital assets and crypto-currencies, perhaps you are on the path towards seeing Blockchain as the new Web 3.0. In a nutshell, considering the plethora of services emerging from this new economy and technology platform, Blockchain gives people the ability to create value and authenticate digital information anonymously, which can have massive applications in the exhibition and conference spaces.

If, as an organizer, you see your tech suppliers hauling huge computers into your event venue to deliver their services, you can bet that they’re still relying on technologies from the early 1990s. Believe it or not, I still regularly run into a few. It may be time for you to consider exploring other avenues, such as working with tech suppliers that have an eye to the future and, at the very least, have shifted to cloud-based architectures. Not everyone will have dabbled in the bleeding edge of information systems, such as researching the potential of blockchain-powered services, but you are likely closer to having found your ideal partner for the future if they have. In the coming years it is likely that Distributed Ledger event tickets, access control, and cryptographically managed identity management will help prevent fraud, and provide the highest standards of security–digital and physical–to event attendees.

Let the conversation begin!

NOTE: If you would like to learn more about cryptocurrencies and Blockchain, I recommend starting with this TED Talk. The CoinBase blog is also a good place to learn about cryptocurrencies. Want to create a wallet account to be able to buy and sell Bitcoin, Ethereum or LiteCoin (the three main cryptocurrencies)? I suggest gatecoin.com. But first, perhaps you’ll want to create a protonmail.com email account (secure encrypted email) so you can create your Bitcoin account based on secure email ID.

Stephane Doutriaux is Group Commercial Director at Poken–A GES Company. Opinions are his own. He can be reached at stephane@poken.com.