Thursday, 26 April 2018

European Blockchain Partnership: should consumer concerns be addressed?

On the 10th of April 22 Member States entered into the European Blockchain Partnership, pledging to cooperate and share technical and regulatory expertise and experience on the use of blockchain.

For many of us, it may be hard to understand what blockchain is. It is the best described as a database that stores and distributes information with the so called distributive ledger technology (see a very good paper by Bacon et al on Blockchain Demystified). In terms of its purpose, perhaps it is easier to think about blockchain as a technology akin to the internet. It operates differently, it is decentralized, and data integrity and reliability is said to be its the greatest advantages, but we as consumers, will probably use blockchain in a similar fashion like we use now the internet.

Blockchain is successfully used in the Fintech sector for example for the operation of cryptocurrency platforms like Bitcoin. As far as I now, currently there are not many direct applications where consumers would be able to make use of the blockchain technology. However, the new technology has huge potential, and according to the plans of the EU Commission, it will overtake almost all spheres of public and private lives. Blockchain is seen an integral part of the Digital Single Market.

The intersection of blockchain and consumer protection has not been greatly explored. As every innovation it can greatly benefit consumers. Blockchain is set to be particularly advantageous in terms of certainty and reliability that it provides for transactions, however, there may be hidden dangers and all sorts of new interesting legal questions that may not yet be apparent, such as those connected to the use of smart contracts. Traditional  grounds for consumer detriment such as information deficit may also appear in the new context, with new dimensions that regulators will need to consider.

The Commission's initiative to prompt EU-wide cooperation is welcomed. However, it should also make sure that consumer interests are in the forefront of the new initiatives. Do you see any particular aspects of consumer protection that should raise special concerns?

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