Login with Coinbase: Can the Crypto Giant Protect User Privacy?

As hundreds of blockchain startups piece together the humble beginnings of an industry, it would be easy to entertain the notion that things will stay this way forever–disjointed, but decentralized. The rise of giants like Coinbase, however, may soon put the manifestation of decentralization to its biggest test yet.

Bitcoin’s meteoric rise last year caught many off-guard, perhaps even the once-peripheral tech companies that were expected to become the backbone of a multi-billion-dollar industry overnight.

Related: Despite Recent Market Downturn, Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong Remains Bullish

Few weathered a bigger storm of interest than Coinbase, however, whose CEO Brian Armstrong recently divulged that the San Francisco-based exchange was signing 50,000 users a day during 2017’s famed bull market.

Nearly a year later, the exchange now claims more than 20 million users, a historical trade volume of $150 billion and a chief executive on Fortune’s “40 Under 40” list of the most influential business figures in the world.

Whether the rise of the company was engineered by design or serendipity, the very question may have little bearing as Facebook’s concoction in a Harvard frat house as Coinbase morphs into one of the giants currently dominating the crypto scene.

In the Grand Scheme of Things

While Armstrong’s outfit has been praised for its cryptocurrency and trading services, few may realize they may only be the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

According to the company’s September 2016 “Secret Master Plan,” exchange services are but one component of a four-step roadmap to build an “open financial system” that brings “more economic freedom, innovation, efficiency and equality of opportunity in the world.”

Coinbase Rebrands Toshi as Coinbase Wallet
Related: Coinbase Rebrands Toshi as Coinbase Wallet

Per the “not-so-secret” plan, Coinbase would offer assistance to open-source payment protocol projects (complete), build exchanges that allowed access to cryptocurrency en masse (complete), develop a consumer-friendly interface for decentralized applications (dApps) and, finally, proliferate these distributed applications, ultimately, to replace the centralized services of today.

With Coinbase’s recent launch of Coinbase Wallet, previously called Toshi, it would appear the wheels have been set in motion for the third phase. According to the original plan, this includes a “yet undeveloped web browser equivalent, which may have a user-controlled wallet underlying it.”

Tackling the Identity Issue

However predictive Coinbase’s plan may have been in 2016, it seems to have only scratched the surface of the company’s unfolding quest to decentralize identity.

Related: Coinbase Acquires Digital Identity Startup Distributed Systems

Just days after the release of the new wallet, Coinbase announced it had acquired Distributed Systems Inc., a Silicon Valley compatriot specializing in blockchain-based identities and their application to digital products. The merger, it seems, was a chance for Coinbase to hint at the company’s move to identity, to which one could entertain the notion of a “Login with Coinbase” button akin to Facebook, Google or other internet monoliths.

In the wake of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica narrative, one may ask: Will a centralized corporation with decentralized technology be able to bring change?

To Coinbase, the answer seems to be a considered “yes”:

“We’ll need to be deliberate about how and where we apply this technology. We’re going to have new questions to answer about anonymity, privacy and how permanent the different pieces of our identity should be. But ultimately, decentralizing online identities will transform our relationship with technology.”

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