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How Major Tech Companies Influence Blockchain Development: IBM, Microsoft, and More

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blockchain feature image
Image Credit: @hiteshchoudhary

The world of blockchain is awash with exciting and intriguing projects. Crypto-startup innovations attract investors and consumers, but they’re not the only tech companies working in the blockchain space. The major tech companies like Microsoft, IBM, Amazon, and Facebook are all exploring how to apply blockchain technology to both new and existing products.

Here’s what six of the biggest tech companies are doing with blockchain technology.

1. IBM

IBM is probably best known for its contributions to The Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Project. (What is the Hyperledger Project, anyway?) Specifically, IBM originally committed Hyperledger Fabric, a permissioned blockchain infrastructure with modular features.

From there, IBM released IBM Blockchain, its Blockchain as a Service (BaaS), based upon the same technology. IBM Blockchain focuses on enterprise blockchain solutions, helping existing companies apply blockchain technology to their existing business structure. Other implementations include shipping blockchain, TradeLens, working in conjunction with Maersk, a partnership with the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, medical blockchain partnerships with Aetna and Anthem, and partnerships with major European banks.

IBM is working hard in the blockchain space. Other than the Chinese tech giant, Alibaba, IBM has the most blockchain-related patents.

2. Facebook

There were strong rumors of a Facebook token back in early 2018. Throughout the year, different ideas of how a Facebook token might function were bandied about; what services would it work with, what blockchain would it use, would Facebook develop a new in-house blockchain, and will a Facebook token bring cryptocurrency to the world like never before?

According to a recent report by The Information, Facebook is planning to launch its cryptocurrency in June 2019 (other reports suggest the full global launch won’t take place until 2020; it could well be that the June 2019 launch introduces the idea to Facebook’s 2.3 billion users).

The Facebook cryptocurrency, codenamed Libra, is projected as stablecoin. (What is a stablecoin, anyway?) As per the reports, the Facebook cryptocurrency will primarily see use within existing Facebook products, including Messenger and WhatsApp. However, Facebook is considering the rollout of physical ATM devices for users to top up their Facebook token accounts, so it envisions some real-world use. At the very least, it wants to make it as easy as possible to swap fiat currency for Facebook tokens.

Finally, Facebook knows that its image is tarnished. People continue to use Facebook, but there are massive trust issues. Facebook will create an “independent” foundation to oversee the currency. Furthermore, Facebook is asking for a $10 million payment for companies to operate a Facebook currency node to validate transactions, in return for a say in the governance of the token. As yet, there is no indication as to whether running a node would have a financial benefit too.

Although Facebook is attempting to create a decentralized token, the extreme misgivings about the project and Facebook’s motives will remain.

3. Microsoft

Microsoft is another global tech company massively investing in blockchain technology, up there with IBM and Alibaba. In fact, Microsoft’s BaaS platform regularly receives better reviews than IBMs and is considered one of the leading BaaS solutions. The Microsoft BaaS is an Ethereum-based solution integrated with its cloud computing and storage solution, Azure.

Microsoft is also developing Coco, an enterprise blockchain framework aiming to increase throughput and latency, Coco will compete with other frameworks such as Hyperledger Fabric.

Most interestingly, however, is Microsoft’s open source decentralized identity tool, Ion. Microsoft is the first major tech company to build a fully decentralized application directly on the Bitcoin blockchain. Ion will examine identities across the various social networks and online services we use.

For instance, if you log into Medium using your Google account, a protocol deals with the personal information sent to verify your account to the external service provider. Ion steps in here to handle the personal identification, decentralizing the process and giving you the ability to control your data. The prime example given is that if Google were to withdraw account verification logins suddenly, you wouldn’t suddenly lose access to your Medium account because Ion decentralizes the data, allowing to exist and remain verifiable without Google.

4. Amazon

Amazon refuses to accept Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as a form of payment. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t investigating and implementing blockchain technology. Toward the end of 2018, Amazon announced the launch of two blockchain services: The Amazon Managed Blockchain, and the Amazon Quantum Ledger Database. The services launched in April 2019.

Since then, Amazon has received a patent for part of a proof-of-work algorithm. Specifically, Amazon’s patent relates to Merkle trees, a data verification method that allows the efficient verification of large data structures—perfect for blockchain, then. The patent doesn’t specify anything to do with a token or the blockchain but indicates Amazon’s interest in implementing blockchain technology in some form.

5. Alibaba

The Chinese e-commerce giant holds the highest number of blockchain-related patents, coming in with over 260 at the time of writing. (China is the global leader in blockchain patents, too, with nearly 4,500.) Like most major tech companies, Alibaba believes blockchain technology will revolutionize the complex supply chains required to keep a global e-commerce site moving. Alibaba also runs an enterprise BaaS with numerous clients.

In March 2019, Alibaba and Aerospace Information Co. announced a strategic development partnership, including blockchain development, to “actively integrated resources and carry out in-depth cooperation.”

Around the same time, Alibaba also registered two blockchain subsidiaries, Ant Blockchain Technology, and Ant Double Chain Technology. The former will focus on data services, software development, and network development, while the latter will provide fintech, financial, and data services, as well as supply chain management and consultations.

6. Google

Where would a list of what the biggest companies are doing in blockchain be without a word on Google?

In early 2019, Google quietly announced that the entire Bitcoin and Ethereum blockchains were now available in their big data analytics platform, BigQuery. The team also announced that there was a sophisticated suite of analytics tools to go with it. While the announcement was quiet, it caught the eye of cryptocurrency and blockchain developers, with over 500 projects stemming from the new toolset.

The project, Blockchain ETL, changes blockchain exploration from looking for analyzing single transactions to exploring an entire ecosystem of transactions.

In comparison to its direct rivals, Google is seemingly lagging. It has several partnerships with promising blockchain companies, such as BlockApps and Digital Assets. Google holds nine blockchain patents; a paltry amount with regards to IBM or Alibaba.

Aside from involvement in blockchain technology, Google has a critical role in cryptocurrency advertising. In March 2018, Google banned all crypto-related advertising from its ad networks. The ban was in part to fight back against fraudulent cryptocurrency and blockchain advertising during a period when ICOs and other cryptocurrency investment opportunities were appearing everywhere.

(They weren’t the only tech company to do so; Facebook and Twitter both banned crypto and blockchain advertising for a while.)

Google reversed the decision later in 2018, allowing registered cryptocurrency exchanges to advertise.

Major Tech Companies in Blockchain and Cryptocurrency

The major tech companies are not the ones leading the way in blockchain development. Sure, they are contributing, developing in-house projects, and creating exciting partnerships with new crypto startups. But the blockchain space is so young that the development playing field is still wide-open.

It isn’t just tech companies and startups innovating in the cryptocurrency space. Bitcoin is under constant development. Check out what’s coming for Bitcoin in 2019.

Gavin Phillips
Gavin saw the potential in Bitcoin back in 2010, but was a dirt poor student living on eggs and without a penny to invest. Since then, he’s been tracking the development of cryptocurrency and blockchain, and he’s written about blockchain for several publications and ICO whitepapers, including Envilope.
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