If you’ve ever questioned the security of your data while sending an email or uploading files to the cloud, you know how important data confidentiality is. And given how important this is, imagine how important it is for companies, especially those in the greater China region where the government can simply block all services that do not share user data with it. In this article, Solon Li, CEO and Founder of Authpaper Delivery, explains how important decentralization is for our privacy, what his proposed solution for us is, and how he’s planning to expand the platform to handle all kinds of secret data transfers, certifications, and tracing.
Hello! Thank you so much for joining us, Mr. Li. It’s a pleasure to talk with such an experienced expert. Why don’t we start of by having you tell us a bit about your product and its target audience? What makes it stand out among all the other digital data delivery platforms on the market?
It’s nice to talk to you too. Authpaper Delivery is a decentralized data courier platform, which combines blockchain, bittorrent, cryptography, and other current technologies to provide peer-to-peer digital data delivery services. All delivered data is confidential except for the specified recipients. Data is verified to be unchanged down to every single bit. Delivery jobs and records are kept in the blockchain and publicly verifiable, yet unforgeable. Peers receive coin rewards by handling and speeding up delivery jobs.
Document and small parcel couriers are our major target markets. In the future, certificate issuing, data circulation, and copyrighted data are also our target markets. But nearly all commercial companies, especially trading companies, will find this system very useful as they send out a lot of documents everyday. Aside from that, legal and accounting firms can also use this platform to send confidential documents and reports without bringing parcels of documents around. Basically, the whole document and small-parcel-courier market is our primary market.
Currently, people send data by email and instant messengers. However, the data size and delivery speed are very limited, and there is no delivery record. Cloud based data storage solutions like Dropbox and OneDrive can also be used to share data between people. The data limit is much higher (GB to TB), but the delivery speed is limited by the server bandwidth, and there is no delivery record.
It seems that security is one of the most important features of your platform. Can you tell us more about your approach to data security?
Unlike the many companies that recklessly gather as much data as possible, we designed this platform to minimize the data the peers and us can access. All data delivered is encrypted twice by different encryption keys before leaving the sender. One encryption key is known by the sender and recipient, and the other key is kept by the peers on the platform. It ensures that only the sender and recipient can read the confidential content, and the recipient must endorse the completion of delivery before reading the content. All the public can see are the delivery jobs available, previous job records, and encrypted data pieces. After delivery, all data will be deleted from the platform, and we only keep the delivery records on the blockchain.
Authpaper Delivery solves two problems at once: signing documents and transferring copyrighted data. Will they both be available from day one? Which one do you think will be more popular?
As one of our primary products, confidential data delivery will be available from day one. It is also our primary market. After that, we will build workflows based on the platform. The first two are sending to multiple recipients and document signing. Next, we will further extend the document signing feature to provide document circulation services.
We selected document signing first because at least 10% of the business documents are mailed for signing. After that, we will turn our focus on copyright data. The market of electronic document signing is very huge as it is estimated to be worth over 0.5 billion US dollars in the USA alone in 2017, but we believe that the confidential data delivery market is even greater. Content ID, a digital fingerprinting system developed by Google, identifies copyrighted content on YouTube. Content owners have a choice to share profits from the copyrighted videos or take down. In 2016, Google stated that Content ID had paid out around $2 billion to copyright holders. It shows that the loss of copyright video infringement is huge, and that’s how the market of copyright data delivery will be.
What do you think about the centralized solutions for signing documents, such as Adobe Sign and DocuSign? In what case can they be used without compromising yourself? And when is it necessary to switch to Authpaper Delivery?
Currently all solutions for signing documents are centralized, which means that one must share the document content and their own information with the solution providers. The only way to use their services without compromising yourself is not putting any document about yourself on the platform. The concern of leaking confidential data is a huge barrier for traditional companies to adopt e-signing solutions, especially in the greater China region. When the document to be signed has to be completely confidential, like contracts and NDAs, one should use Authpaper Delivery instead of other e-signing solutions.
Currently, Authpaper Delivery works on top of the BitTorrent network. Why did you choose BitTorrent? Who came up with the idea of using it as a base layer?
When we design the platform, two major considerations are how to increase the data delivery rate and how peers can help the platform operations. Increasing the bandwidth of servers is a common way to increase the delivery rate, but it is certainly not scalable when there are a lot of downloads. The nodes between the server and the client are also bottlenecks for high speed and stable data delivery. BitTorrent is a well-known protocol for transferring large files. It also allows peers to join swarms to speed up data sharing. Once we go deeper into the protocol, we found that BitTorrent also verifies that data is not changed during the delivery process. It means the torrent file can be kept in the delivery record to prove that a piece of data is sent without leaking any content. So the platform can delete the data after delivery in order to save storage space for upcoming delivery jobs. It is a best fit for us to implement the platform.
As most of us already know, BitTorrent handles almost 3% of all global downstream and 22% of upstream traffic. Are you inheriting its infrastructure’s benefits? How many users can your platform handle at once?
No, we are only using the protocol and will build our own BT network. However, BitTorrent users can also join the swarm to speed up the delivery jobs, just without a reward, while our peers can also use the platform to download and share files like a BitTorrent software.
Authpaper Delivery is fully decentralized and the blockchain part of our platform only keeps the delivery jobs and records. The BitTorrent part is fully operated on a job basis, hence there is no limit to the number of concurrent users on our platform. The only technical limits are given by the number of peers. If the peers using our platform cannot keep the data of a delivery job, the platform cannot handle the job. If the number of peers can’t handle the increased number of delivery jobs running at the same time, it may take a long time for the blockchain to confirm whether the delivery was successful. Anyway, in this scenario, the data can be delivered in a short period of time, but the reward is sent out when the job is confirmed on the blockchain.
For every service, centralized or not, its success can be measured by the number of its users. How do you plan to attract users to your decentralized service after launch? Are you going to start your marketing once the mainnet goes live?
We will promote the platform in our local market, Hong Kong, first. Most of our private investors are from the commercial, trading, accounting, and legal sectors of Hong Kong and they will also be the first customers of this platform after the mainnet is launched. When we have a stable user base in Hong Kong, we will use the generated profit to promote our platform in Taiwan, Singapore, and China. As more and more peers and customers are joining the platform, the platform will become more famous and promote our platform in more places.
Do you plan to expand the functionality of Authpaper Delivery in the future? Right now it has a very particular purpose, transferring files securely; will you keep it that way? What’s the final vision look like?
We will certainly extend the platform. Based on secret data delivery, we will first extend the platform to handle other needs in mailing and courier markets. They include sending data to multiple recipients and document signing. After that we will build a document circulation solution on the top of the platform.
After addressing the common needs in the mailing and courier markets, our next step will be the document certificate market. We will build a platform for senders to issue certificates with the sender’s own signature to the public with well-proven delivery records and certificates on proving the sender identity. That’s a very important feature that can eliminate fake academic certificates, which are very common throughout the greater China region. One can purchase a university certificate from Taobao, the biggest online shopping website in China, for around USD 20-40. Throughout China and Southeast Asia, fake certificates are used in applications on jobs or higher education in other places, to get subsidies, or even for tax evasion, Every year, billions of USD are lost directly due to document fraud. With this feature, we will integrate my postgraduate research on document authentication to ensure that the platform works in both the digital and physical world.
After that, we will further extend our platform to support copyrighted data delivery and, ultimately, we will provide a platform for handling all kinds of secret data transfers, certifications, and tracing.
Every year, we consume more than 400 tons of paper globally. One of the positive side effects of your project is drastically reducing paper consumption. Do you think you can attract some sponsors from environmental organizations?
Yes, we believe that environmental organizations will find this project attractive as this platform drastically reduces paper consumption. Circulations and mailing are the two major reasons why a company prints something. Having a solid data courier solution gives companies a big push to move away from paper.
As security experts, what do you expect from the future? Are we moving toward a dystopian future where the government looks at every aspect of our lives? If that’s the case, is encryption enough to keep our privacy? Or do you think it will go in the opposite direction, and personal data will become more protected than ever?
There are always discussions as to what kind of future our technology can bring us. In China, government and technology industries are building a lot of different systems to facilitate people’s lives. They can buy things via WeChat. They can read the menu and place orders in restaurants completely by WeChat only. They can check all kinds of information, government announcements, their own bank accounts, insurance, utility bills, property ownership, purchased cars, you name it, via this messenger application.
The Chinese government is also building CCTV around the whole country so that when a CCTV captures the face of an outlaw, police will be notified immediately to arrest him or her. After buying a high-speed train ticket, Chinese citizens do not need to present anything to take the train. The CCTV above the entrance gate will recognize the passengers and authorize their entrance automatically. One of the Chinese government’s goals is that Chinese people can do everything, from purchasing things, signing documents, to taking flights and trains, by only presenting their face.
So there is certainly a place moving toward a future where the government takes care of all aspects of a citizen’s life. In this case, having encryption alone is not enough to maintain our privacy. It is because the government can just block all the services that do not share user data with it. Google and Whatsapp are famous examples of services not available in China.
To preserve privacy, decentralized platforms are necessary. Decentralized solutions cannot be blocked so long as there are peers supporting. Protocols like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and EOS fit these requirements and become very popular in China. Authpaper Delivery will be the next one.