CBDCs on the Rise: What the Decline of Physical Cash Means for Blockchain and Privacy

Key Takeaways

* By 2028, only 9% of all payments are expected to be made in physical currency.

* Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) are under development, but their design raises questions about privacy and personal freedom.

* Critics argue that digital payment systems, unlike cash, can be monitored and can refuse service without consequence.

The Inevitable Decline of Cash

According to a report by the World Economic Forum dated September 26, 2023, the use of physical cash has been declining at a rate of approximately 15% each year since 2017. The report estimates that by 2028, a mere 9% of all payments will be made using physical currency. This decline is not expected to happen overnight but is seen as an inevitable outcome due to the individual choices of millions of citizens and merchants.

Convenience Versus Privacy

The shift towards digital payments is largely driven by convenience. However, this convenience comes at the cost of personal freedom and privacy. Unlike digital payments, cash transactions do not require authorization from any third party, and they leave no trace. David Smith, Economics Editor at The Times, questioned the need for a digital cash replacement, stating, “Why would anybody bother? If I am happily, or in some cases not so happily, using contactless payments now, why would I go to the trouble of loading up a digital pound wallet to use that instead?”

The Role of Central Banks and CBDCs

Central banks are considering the introduction of retail Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) as a digital cash replacement. However, the design of these CBDCs is a subject of debate. Critics argue that if CBDCs do not offer the same level of privacy and freedom as cash, they could face resistance, especially in developed economies. The report suggests that only central banks, due to their monopoly on the issuance of cash, could deliver a digital cash substitute that balances both convenience and personal freedom.

Balancing Act: Freedom and Regulation

While the idea of a digital cash substitute is appealing, it also raises concerns about potential misuse. Any system that allows untraceable or unblockable payments could attract criminal activity. Therefore, the challenge lies in designing a CBDC that mimics the features of cash without becoming a digital “wild west.”

Disclaimer & Copyright Notice: The content of this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as financial advice. Always consult with a professional before making any financial decisions. This material is the exclusive property of Blockchain.News. Unauthorized use, duplication, or distribution without express permission is prohibited. Proper credit and direction to the original content are required for any permitted use.

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Ethereum Founder Vitalik Buterin Co-Authors Paper on Blockchain Privacy and Compliance

Ethereum’s Vitalik Buterin, along with researchers and privacy advocates, published a paper on September 6, 2023, titled “Blockchain Privacy and Regulatory Compliance: Towards a Practical Equilibrium.” The paper introduces “Privacy Pools,” a smart contract-based protocol designed to reconcile financial privacy with regulatory compliance. The news was shared to Blockchain.News by Ameen Soleimani.

Key Details

Authors: Vitalik Buterin (Ethereum Foundation), Jacob Illum (Chainalysis), Matthias Nadler (University of Basel), Fabian Schar (Center for Innovative Finance, University of Basel), Ameen Soleimani (Privacy Pools)

Publication Date: September 6, 2023

Abstract: The paper focuses on “Privacy Pools,” a protocol that employs zero-knowledge proofs to allow users to prove the lawful or unlawful origin of their funds without revealing their entire transaction history.

Keywords: Blockchain, Privacy, Regulation, Smart Contracts, Zero-Knowledge Proofs

Full Paper: SSRN

Additional Information: Dropbox Paper

Protocol’s Objective

The paper aims to address the perceived incompatibility between privacy and regulatory compliance in blockchain transactions. It introduces “Privacy Pools,” a protocol that uses smart contracts to enhance privacy while allowing for regulatory oversight.

How It Works

The protocol enables users to publish a “zero-knowledge proof” to demonstrate that their funds do not originate from known unlawful sources. This is achieved without revealing the user’s entire transaction graph, thereby maintaining privacy.

Implications for Users

Honest Users: The protocol incentivizes honest users to prove the origin of their funds, separating them from dishonest users who cannot provide such proof.

Regulatory Compliance: The protocol can be adapted to meet various regulatory requirements, making it easier for users to comply without sacrificing privacy.

Future Outlook

The authors view this paper as a stepping stone towards a future where financial privacy and regulatory compliance can coexist. They aim to foster a constructive dialogue on this subject, shifting the conversation in a more positive direction.

For further inquiries, contact ameensole@gmail.com.

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Japan Concerned About AI Chatbots

The use of chatbots as integrations into new forms of technology and society has been rapidly growing in recent years. On the other hand, this has led to increased public concern on their effect on society. The results of a recent study that was conducted in Japan and made public on the 30th of April found that 69.4% of the country’s population favors more stringent control in the development of AI. According to a study by Kyodo News, many individuals are concerned about the proliferation of artificial intelligence chatbots.

The poll was carried out as a component of a larger study that included a variety of issues, including the current approval rating of the government and events relating to pandemics. The AI component, on the other hand, was added not long after Japanese government officials voiced their support for OpenAI, the firm that is responsible for ChatGPT. On April 10th, the Chief Cabinet Secretary of the Japanese government, Hirokazu Matsuno, said that the government is considering integrating AI into its systems, but only if concerns around privacy and cybersecurity are satisfactorily addressed.

Additionally, Japan has been actively advocating for a regulatory climate that is friendlier to innovation in the crypto and Web3 sectors. On April 6th, a new white paper titled “Ways to Expand the Local Crypto Scene” was published by the team working on the country’s Web3 initiative.

The regulation of AI has been a matter of intense interest for governments all around the globe. It was one of the first nations to place a temporary ban on the use of ChatGPT; however, authorities have since said that the technology may be allowed to rejoin the country after it complied with the criteria for transparency. In Germany, supervisory authorities have begun their own inquiry into whether or not ChatGPT complies with the General Data Protection Regulations. Legislators from all member states of the European Union are now putting the finishing touches on the Artificial Intelligence Act, which will serve as a model for the rest of the world.

As a result of the rapid increase in the development of AI technology, China will soon implement required security inspections for artificial intelligence (AI) enterprises as well as the technology itself.

The worries that have been voiced in Japan are reflective of a larger discourse taking place all across the world concerning the effect that AI will have on society. AI chatbots have the potential to transform many different sectors; nevertheless, it is essential to guarantee that their development is carried out in an ethical manner and with sufficient regulation in order to preserve the privacy and security of individuals.


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OpenAI Launches Bug Bounty Program

OpenAI, the artificial intelligence (AI) company behind ChatGPT, has announced the launch of a bug bounty program to combat privacy and cybersecurity concerns. The program rewards security researchers and ethical hackers for identifying and addressing vulnerabilities in OpenAI’s technology and company, with cash rewards ranging from $200 for low-severity findings to $20,000 for exceptional discoveries.

OpenAI has partnered with Bugcrowd, a bug bounty platform, to manage the submission and reward process, ensuring a streamlined experience for all participants. The company has also offered safe harbor protection for vulnerability research conducted in compliance with its specific guidelines. OpenAI believes that expertise and vigilance will play a crucial role in keeping its systems secure and ensuring users’ security.

The launch of the program comes in the wake of recent bans in different countries on AI technology and concerns about privacy and cybersecurity. On March 20, OpenAI suffered a data breach, which exposed user data due to a bug in an open-source library. The incident highlighted the need for increased security measures and prompted OpenAI to launch the bug bounty program.

The global community of security researchers, ethical hackers, and technology enthusiasts have been invited to participate in the program. OpenAI hopes that the initiative will help to identify and address vulnerabilities in its systems and improve its overall security posture.

The program’s rules state that researchers must comply with all applicable laws and regulations, and safe harbor protection is provided for vulnerability research conducted according to OpenAI’s guidelines. If a third party takes legal action against a security researcher who participated in the program and followed the rules, OpenAI will inform others that the researcher acted within the program’s guidelines. This is because OpenAI’s systems are connected with other third-party systems and services.

The launch of the program follows a statement by the Japanese government’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, stating that Japan would consider incorporating AI technology into government systems, provided privacy and cybersecurity issues are addressed. OpenAI’s bug bounty program demonstrates the company’s commitment to addressing these concerns and improving its security posture. By inviting the global community of security researchers, ethical hackers, and technology enthusiasts to participate, OpenAI hopes to increase vigilance and expertise, directly impacting the security of its systems and ensuring users’ security.


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Japan supports OpenAI amid concerns

OpenAI, the artificial intelligence (AI) company, has received support from Japan amidst a wave of bans by different countries and uncertainties. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno announced on April 10 that Japan would consider incorporating AI technology into government systems, including OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot, subject to privacy and cybersecurity concerns being addressed.

This announcement followed an alleged data breach on March 20, where Italy’s data protection watchdog temporarily blocked the chatbot on March 31 and directed OpenAI to immediately restrict data processing for Italian users while an investigation is ongoing.

OpenAI CEO, Sam Altman, visited Japan to meet with government officials, including Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Matsuno expressed his support for OpenAI, stating that the Japanese government would consider adopting its technology if privacy and cybersecurity concerns are addressed.

Altman expressed his enthusiasm about engaging with Japan’s remarkable talent and creating something exceptional for the Japanese people during a press conference in Tokyo. He also mentioned his amazement at the adoption of this technology in Japan.

During his meeting with Kishida, Altman discussed the potential of the technology and how to remove any negative aspects. They also deliberated on how to be cautious about the risks and maximize AI’s benefits for people. OpenAI is considering the possibility of opening an office in Japan and extending Japanese language services.

However, OpenAI is currently being investigated by Canada’s privacy commissioner for allegedly collecting and utilizing personal information without consent. On April 4, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada announced that the probe was initiated after a complaint from an anonymous individual. Philippe Dufresne, head privacy commissioner, emphasized that his department is closely monitoring AI technology to protect Canadians’ privacy rights.

OpenAI’s technology has been the subject of controversy in different countries. Japan’s expression of support for the company amid these concerns is a positive development for OpenAI’s efforts to expand its operations globally. OpenAI’s commitment to enhancing its models’ proficiency in the Japanese language and its cultural nuances also shows its dedication to providing effective AI services to Japan. However, addressing privacy and cybersecurity concerns is crucial for OpenAI to gain wider acceptance and adoption of its technology.


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Privacy blockchain platform Aztec to shut down Aztec Connect

Privacy blockchain platform Aztec has announced that it will be shutting down Aztec Connect, the network’s privacy infrastructure that acts as the encryption layer for Ethereum. The network was launched in July 2022 and has since amassed more than 100,000 users. However, the company has now officially announced that it will be closing down the service.

The closure of Aztec Connect will involve disabling deposits from front-ends like zk.money and zkpay.finance on March 17. Users will be able to withdraw their funds from Aztec Connect with no fees for one year, but withdrawals will become significantly more burdensome after March 21, 2024, according to a blog post by Aztec. The company has recommended that users withdraw their funds as soon as possible.

From March 2024, Aztec will no longer run a sequencer, meaning the current system will no longer publish rollup blocks processing Aztec Connect transactions. “Contract permissions will be renounced, and all rollup functionality will be ceased,” the announcement reads. However, Aztec has fully open-sourced the entire Aztec Connect protocol, and it encourages the Aztec community to fork, deploy, and operate a new version of the system. “We’d love to see an independently-operated Aztec Connect and are ready to fund it,” Aztec said.

According to the announcement, the shutdown of Aztec Connect marks a milestone in the development of a decentralized general-use encrypted blockchain. Before launching Aztec Connect in July 2022, Aztec first experimented with using a zk-Rollup with Aztec 1, which was “slow, inefficient, costly” and limited in functionality to “basic private transfers.”

Aztec’s focus on privacy has been a significant factor in its popularity among blockchain users. Its privacy infrastructure is designed to help users protect their financial data and transaction history from third-party entities, thereby maintaining their privacy. The company has been developing privacy-oriented solutions to improve the efficiency and security of blockchain-based financial transactions.

The closure of Aztec Connect is a significant move for the blockchain platform, but it remains to be seen how the Aztec community will react to the news. As the company has encouraged the community to fork, deploy, and operate a new version of the system, it is possible that a new, independently-operated version of Aztec Connect may emerge in the future. However, for now, users of the platform will need to withdraw their funds before the closure of the service on March 21, 2024.


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Secret Network to Restructure as Nonprofit with ‘Transparent Operation’

The decentralized autonomous organization known as Secret Network, which regulates the blockchain with an emphasis on privacy, has apparently made the decision to reorganize its foundation so that it functions as a nonprofit organization with a “transparent operation,” as stated on the website for the proposal. On the webpage devoted to the proposal, this decision was disclosed to the general public.

According to the plan that was developed, the newly established group “would be registered as a NPO [nonprofit organization] and present an annual account of its operations, including key performance indicators (KPIs), funds, and objectives.” At least three people who are already involved in the community that the foundation serves will make up its board of directors, which will be responsible for overseeing the organization’s operations. It is proposed that no one entity be permitted to have more than two seats on the board at the same time if the notion is to be implemented as it is now. The present restriction of one seat per corporation would be increased to accommodate this new provision.

The victory was theirs to take with 90.13 percent of the vote in their favor. There was not a single vote cast by DAO members in support of vetoing the move, and 9.87% of the membership elected not to take part in the vote. There was also not a single vote cast in favor of vetoing the proposal.

After a public dispute that erupted between two independent entities that promote Secret Network named SCRT Labs and Secret Foundation, the license was finally granted. The dispute revolved about who would be given priority when it came to advertising Secret Network. Guy Zyskind, the chief executive officer of SCRT Labs, accused Tor Bair, the chief officer of Secret Foundation, of cashing out SCRT tokens as a dividend paid out to himself without disclosing the transaction. Guy Zyskind is the chief executive officer of SCRT Labs. Tor Bair is the chief officer of Secret Foundation. On the 14th of January, this claim was brought forth.


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Zcash is Clogging up in What Looks Like a Spam Attack

The Zcash protocol might be under a spam attack, as analysts pointed out on Twitter in a long discussion that started since Wednesday.


Being a privacy-focused protocol, Zcash’s “Shielded Transaction” feature designed for privacy is now being misused by the attacker.

According to the details shared by the analysts, the attacker has been adding output data to the shielded transactions, which are largely known to be data sensitive. By virtue of the attack, the size of the blockchain has grown from 31 GB in mid-June to more than 100 GB at this time per data from Blockchair.

The attack has been ongoing for a while, even though it has just been brought to the public’s notice. In fact, the knowledge exhibited by the contributors to the discourse on Twitter is evident that many have been investigating the occurrence for quite some time.

Notably, Zcash has not had any known downtime to date. The spam of the shielded transactions is placing intense demands on the protocol, thus causing a lag. The blocks are finding it hard to synchronize with the broader protocol, a situation which, if persisted, could cause a major drawback for the protocol.

“At this point, there only seems to be two problems with the spam: it’s bloating the chain size, and it’s making it harder for wallets to sync,” Sean Bowe, an engineer at Zcash’s core development firm Electric Coin Company said, adding that “Neither problem is contributed to by Orchard at all. It shouldn’t even be part of the equation even if the spammer was using Orchard!” 

It is unclear what the benefit is to the hacker at this time, but analysts on Twitter noted that the attack has survived this long because of the lack of a transparent fee structure on the Zcash protocol. The attack is notably costing the perpetrator(s) as low as $10 per day. 

The prevalence of hacking in the blockchain ecosystem is now very alarming, with Solana and Ethereum Classic having recorded their fair share of disruptions in recent times.

Image source: Shutterstock


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The virus killer: How blockchain contributes to the fight against COVID-19

On Jan. 30, the South China Morning Post reported that one of the largest Asian pharmaceutical companies, Zuellig, had launched a blockchain-based system to track the quality of COVID-19 vaccines. Called “eZTracker,” it allows any user to “instantly verify the provenance and authenticity” of vaccines by scanning the QR code on the package. Somewhat surprisingly, throughout the pandemic, there have not been many reports of blockchain-based products adopted by big pharma or global healthcare organizations to bolster the anti-COVID effort. Here is a rundown of the major cases of such adoption, along with possible reasons for the limited interest in blockchain among healthcare officials. 

South Korea: Blockchain vaccine passports

In April 2021, the South Korean government became the first to introduce blockchain-based vaccine passports amid the COVID-19 crisis. Putting proof of vaccination on a distributed ledger ensures the authenticity of the document as many people around the world tend to counterfeit such “Green Passes,” which sometimes can secure access to restaurants, public spaces and travel.

The app, which goes by the name COOV, was developed by London-based Blockchain Labs and is available on the App Store and Google Play Store. It generates a QR-code for each user and ensures that all personal data is stored on the user’s device, exchanging it with the app host through blockchain only.

Brazil: The National Health Data Network

The blockchain-based National Health Data Network is not being built specifically to fight the coronavirus — it constitutes a vital part of the ambitious plan to digitize Brazil’s entire healthcare system. Yet, the system has been used to respond to coronavirus-related challenges since late 2020.

The main use of the Brazilian network, like that in South Korea, is vaccination tracking. The system registers every jab immediately, creating a database that allows for a “continuity of care in the public and private sectors.” The national healthcare digitization project is expected to be completed by 2023.

Mexico: COVID-19 test certificates

In October 2021, private healthcare provider MDS Mexico launched a rapid COVID-19 testing service, backed by blockchain. The digital platform allows patients to get their test results in real-time via a QR code and to safely store their vaccination history. Once again, the company cited the fight against counterfeit vaccinations as the key mission of the platform:

To avoid the falsification of negative results, we began to certify the SARS-CoV-2 detection tests with blockchain technology and cryptographic signature, which protects the information in a unique, immutable and unalterable QR Code that can be verified worldwide.

The private initiative followed the earlier announcement of Mexico’s National Chamber of Commerce that it plans to digitize vaccine passports with the use of blockchain technology.

Other ideas

These examples represent only a small fraction of all blockchain-related projects that are being developed to combat public health threats. Distributed ledgers can help to manage supply chains, ensure the quality of drugs, hold medical records, process insurance claims and increase the efficiency of systems performing a range of other tasks.

Besides safe data management and vaccine tracking, healthcare researchers see opportunities to use blockchains in an even greater variety of areas. A group of American medical scholars proposes a blockchain-based movement pass that relies on smart contracts and tokens to facilitate social distancing. A Scottish research group came up with a project of a blockchain platform, synchronized with the Internet of Things (IoT), that can trace contacts without compromising user identities.

Promoting cross-border compatibility

Enabling cross-border data sharing that could preserve patients’ privacy is a humongous task. To solve it, two scientists from the National Institute of Technology Raipur (India) designed a consortium blockchain to identify and validate COVID-19-related reports through the comparison of the perceptual hash of each report with existing on-chain perceptual hashes.

Reporting COVID-related data to healthcare authorities can get problematic in a pandemic. Jim Nasr, CEO of Acoer — the company that launched the first decentralized COVID-19 tracker back in 2020 — shared his U.S. experience with Cointelegraph:

Every state has its own requirements and mechanism for collection of state-level COVID data. In turn, the states have mandatory infectious disease reporting obligations to federal government entities that largely fund them. The quality and timeliness of data reporting is at best inconsistent, inefficient and publicly non-transparent.

The problems that remain

Currently, the vast majority of COVID-19-related projects still live only on paper. As the most acute phase of the pandemic is arguably over, healthcare innovators seem to be less inclined to focus specifically on the coronavirus. Meanwhile, the number of medical blockchain startups remains on the rise in a variety of more general areas, such as patient consent, clinical trial recruitment, IoT device management, clinical goods supply, finished goods traceability and many others.

Nevertheless, the larger problem of the relationship between blockchain innovation and healthcare officials persists. As Nasr notes, ​​many traditional public health institutions are not ready to embrace blockchain-powered innovation:

In my experience, many of their KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) are under-informed about DLTs and largely [concerned] about the noise in the space (e.g. scamming, cryptocurrency volatility, dealing with keys & wallets, etc).

It is not solely the lack of information that affects adoption. At the end of the day, both public and private healthcare sectors could lack the incentives to innovate in the direction of transparency. Nasr believes that some current problematic aspects of the healthcare industry — “particularly siloed data and opacity of pricing and process” — maintain its profitability and support a thick layer of intermediaries who all benefit along the way. The missing component here is patient pushback that could arise from a better understanding of their rights of data transparency and privacy.


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