Bitcoin has steadily grown in popularity since its inception in 2009. We hear about how many people are getting rich quick from it, and how much energy it’s consuming, and how complex it is to mine.
But what we haven’t heard much about is how Bitcoin can play a role in human rights, and can give people who use it more financial and political freedom.
Alex Gladstein is chief strategy officer of the Human Rights Foundation, and he spoke about why Bitcoin matters for freedom in a talk at Singularity University’s Global Summit last week.
“It’s the first time that humans have ever had the ability to send money around the world globally without anyone being able to stop it,” he said. “You can argue that it’s the first time in our history that we have real censorship resistance.”
Gladstein feels we’re at a crossroads as a society—we’ll either go down a centralized path where our interactions are surveilled and censored, or we’ll go down a decentralized one that preserves our essential freedoms and rights.
Technology’s role is somewhat paradoxical in this crossroads; some forms can serve as a tool of control for governments or companies, while other forms put more power in the hands of citizens.
The Chinese government, Gladstein pointed out, keeps close tabs on its citizens’ behavior, location, finances, and communications. Facial recognition tech, smartphone apps, surveillance drones, and smart glasses are all used to gather information as people go about their daily lives, and this information is fed into the country’s social credit system. Obedient citizens gain privileges and praise, while dissidents, intellectuals, criminals, and other non-conformants can be denied access to services.
And that’s not all. “Predictive policing is real in China today. If the regime thinks your social credit score is indicative that you might do something wrong, they can come arrest you before you’ve committed a crime,” Gladstein said.
Less drastic examples exist in the West, he added, but should also be cause for concern, whether we’re talking about our data being sold without our knowledge or consent, our elections being influenced through online platforms, or a reputation score being assigned to Facebook users in an attempt to combat fake news.
Bitcoin, Gladstein believes, can help—and is already doing so. “Until Bitcoin, there was no way to globally transact other than to trust a third party,” he said. “Unstoppable money simply didn’t exist. I posit to you that Bitcoin is a revolutionary upgrade in how humans can network.”
The fact that it’s owner-less and decentralized gives Bitcoin some uniquely resilient properties. It can’t be changed, stopped, or interrupted. You don’t need to know or trust the party on the other end to transact with them. And even within the Bitcoin community, power is distributed; its ‘government’ works like so, Gladstein said:
Miners are the executive branch, because they work to win the right to add another block to the Bitcoin blockchain. Coders write the script that allows the language to upgrade; they’re the legislative branch. And users decide whether or not to install new blocks on their full nodes, making them comparable to the judicial branch.
“No one entity can control Bitcoin,” Gladstein said. “You have to have consensus among three very different groups, which makes it very hard to change.”
In fact, a clue about why Bitcoin was built was left in the code of the first Bitcoin block. It was a criticism of governments printing more money when financial crises take place. Bitcoin could do to financial monopolies what the internet did to information monopolies (that is, disrupt or destroy them).
As an example, Gladstein spoke about Venezuela’s current crisis and skyrocketing inflation. The International Monetary Fund predicted the country’s inflation will reach 1,000,000 percent by the end of this year, and consumer prices have already risen 46,305 percent this year by one estimate.
“Bitcoin is an escape valve for people in Venezuela,” he said. “It gives them a way to store their money that their government can’t vaporize or inflate to nothing. It gives them a way to transact value with their relatives overseas. It upgrades the ability of remittances to be permanent.”
Bitcoin and other decentralized networks are most useful in countries where people can’t trust the government or the banking system. Gladstein said the most recent estimate of the number of people who have used a cryptocurrency is around 75 million, or 1 percent of the world’s population. “But 4 billion people, or almost half of the world’s population, live under an authoritarian regime,” he said. “That’s a massive opportunity. Whether it’s an opportunity for human impact or business impact, that’s up to you.”
He pointed out that it’s important to differentiate between open blockchains like Bitcoin or Ethereum, and private or enterprise blockchains, which are closed, centralized, usually permissioned, and censorable. Open blockchains are the new cash—they give users privacy and free speech, a way to use money without being tracked.
Gladstein shared a relevant quote from essayist and risk analyst Nassim Nicholas Taleb: “Bitcoin’s mere existence is an insurance policy that will remind governments that the last object the establishment could control, namely the currency, is no longer a monopoly. This gives us, the crowd, an insurance policy against an Orwellian future.”
Though Bitcoin’s been around for almost a decade now, we’re really still at its beginning. Cell phones were expensive and hard to use at first too (poor design, low battery life, bad signal), but now people all over the world are using cell phones for cheap and doing much more than just making calls on them. Gladstein sees Bitcoin following a similar cycle of lowered barriers, increased user-friendliness, and wider adoption.
The problem is that Bitcoin was designed to be slow; its creators traded scalability and efficiency for security and censorship resistance. “If we’re going to think exponentially and get Bitcoin into the hands of a billion people instead of just a million people, we have to find another solution,” Gladstein said.
His proposal? Lighting Network, or systems like it. Lightning is a decentralized network that uses blockchain smart contracts to enable instant payments between participants, but transactions are settled off-blockchain, which makes for faster speeds and lower fees. Lightning can do millions of transactions per second.
Even if Lightning Network fails, Gladstein said, it’s useful as a blueprint for scaling decentralized technology. And in his eyes, the future of freedom depends on decentralized tech.
“I think we want to do everything we can to go down a path that has some sort of decentralization,” he concluded. “Where we preserve our freedoms and rights, and our privacy. We are going to want that for the future of our planet and for the future of our species.”
Creating financial mileposts at regular intervals will help keep one alert and focused
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a life without money worries – a life, where the money is aplenty and even major money hurdles don’t disrupt our lives? This is what financial freedom is all about. Money may not buy happiness, but it can surely buy one freedom. Well, to achieve this utopian financial independence, one needs careful planning. Financial freedom in general means having adequate savings, investments, and cash on hand to pay for the lifestyle we want for ourselves and our families without being obsessed by bringing in a certain amount each year.
Today, attaining financial freedom is an aspiration for many people. When one is financially independent, one has options. But, too many of us fall short of reaching that goal. We are laden with ever-increasing debt, financial emergencies, reckless spending, and other issues that foil us from reaching our goals. However, this Independence Day, one can surely start working their way towards financial freedom with these handy tips:
First, set life goals. Lack of a goal makes the desire for financial freedom too vague. The more specific one’s goals are, the higher is the probability of realising them. Creating financial mileposts at regular intervals will help keep one alert and focused.
Second, make a budget. Making a monthly budget and sticking to it is the best way to guarantee all bills are paid and savings are on track. It is also a monthly routine that reinforces your goals and boosts resolve against the enticement to overindulge.
Third, start investing immediately. Investing is the best way that one’s money can grow exponentially over time. But, time is a major factor to achieve meaningful growth. An online investment account makes it effortless for one to study how to invest, create a neat portfolio, and make weekly or monthly contributions to it automatically.
The next step would be to watch one’s credit. One’s credit score decides the entire financial history of a person. People with reckless financial habits end up paying more interest creating a long-term impact on their financial well-being. This makes it important to get a credit report at regular interval to make sure there is no incorrect information sullying one’s good name.
Another good thing would be to keep learning. One should review all valid changes in the tax laws each year to make sure all alterations and deductions are made the most of. One should try and adjust their investment portfolio in sync with the latest development in the finance sector.
In addition to all above, getting a financial advisor – could be a friend, family, or a professional expert – is highly recommended. A financial advisor can educate, guide and help a person to amass a decent amount of wealth which will get one a step closer to financial freedom.
And last but not least, it is vital to take care of one’s health. Ill-health often makes insurance premiums soar. It may also lead to early retirement. This may hamper the saving and investment pool obstructing the road to financial freedom.
Not only are financial freedom and building extraordinary wealth commendable goals, but they are also attainable. However, working one’s way towards financial freedom will not happen in a jiffy. But, with each step, one can reduce financial stress and improve the quality of life.
‘if every woman in the world had a smartphone, it would transform their lives’.
Melinda gave examples of how smartphone ownership could transform women’s lives in areas such as healthcare:
‘When every woman has a smartphone, she will be able to get the right information, at the right time, in the right format.’
‘Women farmers will be able to watch videos of local farmers providing training based on local soil and weather conditions. […] Using their phones to connect to each other, women farmers can also organise effectively in co-operatives so they can express their demands as members of a powerful group rather than as isolated individuals.’
‘Digital technology slashes transaction costs, though, which means that people can save and borrow money or purchase insurance securely and in small amounts through their phones’
The power of mobile technologies and smartphones to change women’s lives is widely acknowledged, but as Mobile For Development note, ‘In today’s increasingly connected world, women are being left behind.’
Although many people in low and middle income countries may already own smartphones, to really meet their potential large hurdles, such as a lack of universal network coverage, expensive data, a lack of women-centred apps, cultural factors and a lack of technical literacy, still remain. A 2015 report by GSMA reported that cost remains the greatest barrier to women’s phone ownership, with many women in developing countries having less financial independence than men.
See some of these economic possibilities and issues described in the MobileforDevelopment video below:
At the end of this month, on the 26th February 2018, Mobile World Congress is taking place and will explore how mobile tech is helping to achieve the UN #SDG’s and create a better future for all.
Ahead of this event, it seemed a good time to reflect on some of the exciting and creative mobile4development initiatives, smartphone apps and projects aimed at empowering women that have happened encountered since both the 2015 GSMA report and Melinda Gates article mentioned above were written.
1. The ‘Uber-isation’ of domestic workers
At least 54 million women globally are employed as domestic workers. ‘Uber’ style apps for finding domestic work give women access to more employment postings and flexibility in choosing working hours, however can have negative effects as it may fuel discrimination, job insecurity and makes women vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking. See more in this video by the ODI:
One area where mobile technology has had a lot of success is healthcare. GiftedMom is a mobile health solutions provider in Cameroon providing pregnant women and new mothers access to health information and strengthening linkages to antenatal care by pushing automated SMS text and voice reminders of checkups or vaccines, in addition to information about pregnancy, labor, breastfeeding and postnatal care. There is also a chat feature that women can use to connect with health professionals.
3. Making cities safer for women
SafetiPin is a tool that works to enable cities to become safer through collection of data through crowdsourcing and other methods. It began as one app for data collection and now has three apps including ‘SafetiPinTrack’, an app to help women stay safe through alerting their friends and family to their location and possible dangers. The app piloted across 10 cities in India and now has also been rolled out to Colombia, The Philippines, Kenya and Indonesia.
Each of the mobile tech initiatives above highlights the power of big data to empower women, and as we enter deeper into the age of big data, let’s hope we see more initiatives like them. What has become apparent is that following a surge in interest in mobile technologies for women in 2010 and 2015, over the last few years this interest seems to have fizzled out.
Given the rapid rate at which technological and big date advancements are happening. It seems that the power of smartphones to empower women can only continue to grow, so perhaps it’s time we focused more attention on mobile technology initiatives once again.
Do you know of any other great and exciting mobile4development projects aimed at empowering women? What are your thoughts on the projects above?
Comment below and let us know your thoughts and views!