Blockchain-enabled mapping introduces great promise and risks

Blockchain technology has found many potential uses beyond money since its introduction ten years ago. A recent use case that has found increased exploration is blockchain-enabled mapping and location technology. Advocates of the technology point to real-world applications that are more precise and verifiable. And these use cases have the potential to improve upon currently inefficient processes. Some examples:

  • Precise awareness of an Amazon delivery arriving on your doorstep, activating the charge to your account
  • Verification of your exact location when you open an online banking account, removing the need for utility bills and other forms of address identification
  • Location and time-stamped proof via photos sent to an insurance company in the case of a car accident or a flooded home basement

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This new type of application is called "proof of location", or PoL, and is enabled via a smart contract that activates when specific conditions are met. Advocates claim that PoL is superior to today's more commonly used GPS technology, which is utilized by Google Maps, Foursquare and many other mapping technology services. Foam, one of the protocols utilizing PoL claims "Civil GPS is unencrypted, it has no proof-of-origin or authentication features, and despite dire warnings first raised in 2012, the system remains extremely susceptible to fraud, spoofing, jamming, and cyberattack.”

However, PoL has its own challenges, as The Atlantic points out: "In the growing PoL space, each new platform comes with its own hardware infrastructure, protocols, economy, and obfuscatory language." While Foam is open source, cartographers are required to purchase tokens that allow them to contribute to the protocol. These tokens also allow for a commercial layer to exist on top of the open-source maps, as users stake tokens to create locations, lists and applications as well as vote on the validity and quality of mapping information.

The commercial nature of staking tokens on location-based information and applications presents an array of potential complications, such as bias, NIMBYism, contested locations, miscalculations and more. As protocols such as Foam gain more adoption, their objectivity will be tested in real time for all to see. [Source: The Atlantic]

About Author

Mike Dudas is one of the founders of The Block and was the CEO until April 2020 and a board member until April 2021. Prior to starting The Block, Mike was co-founder and CRO of Button, the leading global, mobile performance marketing platform. Mike is a builder of mobile commerce businesses, having worked at Google, Braintree/Venmo and PayPal. Early in his career, Mike worked in corporate M&A and strategy for Disney. Mike earned a BA from Stanford and an MBA from Kellogg.