Centralized marketplaces have crippled consumers since they emerged on the scene centuries ago. Along with leading to economic collapse and institutional inefficiencies, centralization has created a feeling of paralyzation among the consumers who lack the transparency and security they need to make empowered decisions about their own welfare.
But that time of immobilization is over. A new era of decentralized blockchain technology is finally here. It has the potential to revolutionize industry and upend the way that data is transmitted across the world, giving consumers a power and mobility they never thought possible.
New opportunities would exist in industries like healthcare, where patients could finally have a safer and more efficient way to exchange information. Patients shouldn’t have to be responsible for tracking down their health records from a myriad of doctors and insurers. They also shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not their different providers and insurers are adding the correct information to those documents in order to keep all future health care professionals informed about their medical history. With a decentralized exchange, they wouldn’t have to worry about such problems. Their information could be kept in a streamlined, private, and accessible exchange that would ultimately lead to better overall care for the patient and less confusion and work for medical professionals and insurers.
Real estate is another industry where a centralized framework severely limits what a buyer is able to do. First, they must contend with barriers to entry. Buyers without enough capital are turned away, and antiquated laws prevent them in other ways. It can be difficult or even illegal for women to own property in certain countries, for instance, and other countries place heavy restrictions or outright bans on foreign buyers. If a prospective buyer does qualify to break into ownership, they then must interact with a slew of third parties from banks to city officials just to purchase a single piece of property. The process is tedious and time-consuming, and then they have to hope that the housing markets swing their way so that their investment was worth it.
A decentralized framework for the real estate industry would eliminate those hurdles. Blockchain technology makes it possible for accounts to be anonymous, so anyone could invest, despite outdated restrictions. Plus, consumers wouldn’t have to settle for owning one piece of property on their own. They could choose to spread their real estate investments throughout the world as they see fit. A person could research development projects in Dubai from their home in California, and instantaneously lend their money to one via a peer-to-peer exchange, all without the interference of a third party. If they rethink their decision, they don’t have to call their bank and wait for a seller’s market. They simply withdraw their investment, and have the power to direct it somewhere else more lucrative.
Consumers could also benefit if major energy players switched to a decentralized blockchain framework. Now, when a renewable energy source generates a unit of energy, the related data must travel through several third party administrators before it is sold. The system is rife with inefficiency, inaccuracy, and unnecessary transactional costs. Under a blockchain system, data could be transmitted at a fraction of the cost and time, without the potential for human error along the way. Plus, trading energy on a peer-to-peer network would not require the capital for smaller energy providers to enter the market, making it easier for newcomers to emerge with more renewable sources of energy. In addition, consumers would have greater opportunity to stay local. Rather than energy coming from a single, centralized source, a decentralized system could enable small, eco-friendly grids where neighbors trade energy with each other and far fewer resources go to waste.
Pitfalls of Centralization
None of this is possible within the centralized framework that we are accustomed to today. The institutional prowess of those central systems and banks has led to financial collapse time and time again. An example is Black Monday, the day in October of 1987 when the Dow Jones dipped by a unprecedented 23 percent in a single day. Panic ensued worldwide. Alan Greenspan -- a man with just two months of experience in one of the most powerful financial roles in the world -- believed he could save the day by having the US Federal Reserve show its support for the country’s financial giants by cutting interest rates and pumping liquidity into the economy.
The move, which became known as the “Greenspan put,” didn’t save the day for the average American. But it did serve as a message to the country’s bankers. Knowing that they could depend on the Greenspan put going forward, they had permission to run wild from the chairman of the central bank himself.
That attitude was prevalent in the months leading up to the financial collapse of 2008. The banking behemoths felt they were simply “too big to fail,” and took on risk and subprime mortgages with a clueless confidence. Meanwhile, the rest of us were completely out of the loop. All our lives we’ve been told to trust the smart money managers in charge of their savings, mortgages, and stock portfolios, only to receive a devastating wake up call as the economy floundered. The poor decisions and lack of foresight of a few people in charge had left hundreds of thousands broke, jobless, and homeless.
Centralized systems don’t only fail during financial collapse. They are also far more prone to cyber attacks, as is evident from recent security breaches at giants like Target, Anthem, and Equifax. Since all the data in a centralized exchange is stored in one, central location, hackers have access to everything once they’re in. Consumers don’t know their information has been stolen until it’s too late, and then they have to trust a company’s dubious promise that it won’t happen again.
Non-traditional approaches to marketplaces aren’t immune to the pitfalls of centralization, either. In the past decade, several companies have emerged in industries ripe for a dismantling, impling decentralization in their business models. Uber is a prime example. The company promised new transportation freedom to both drivers and riders.
In some ways, the company has delivered on that process. Car owners now have a way to earn more from their asset, and riders have more options. But a truly decentralized system eliminates the middleman entirely. With Uber, that third party is omnipresent, issuing mandates like surge pricing or fees for splitting the bill, for instance. Riders who are willing to pay do have greater transportation freedom, but they are still often helpless against the whim of a corporate policy.
Making Decentralization Possible
So why are we still beholden to an antiquated system? The short answer is that we had to be. The technology simply didn’t exist to create a decentralized framework capable of handling the tasks for which we rely on centralized marketplaces.
But now it does. The dawn of blockchain technology is ushering in a new era of decentralization that will give consumers greater freedom and make exchanges safer, more reliable, and more efficient.
Unlike a centralized system, a blockchain is a distributed ledger. Ledgers aren’t new -- people in charge of transactions have been using some version of them for centuries. The difference under a distributed ledger is that it’s not just one person gripping the ledger and calling the shots. Instead of a single centralized server or administrator, the blockchain enables data to be shared, replicated, and protected across networks that are spread throughout the world. That network is made up of servers, or peers, called nodes. Those nodes communicate with each other on a peer-to-peer basis, meaning that a third party isn’t part of the equation.
A peer-to-peer exchange of that nature hasn't existed since humans made deals by bartering items like livestock and tools with one another. A transaction like buying coffee can sometimes feel like a true peer-to-peer exchange, since a customer is handing over money in exchange for a good. But even though the third party isn't quite visible, it's still there. The customer's money -- a currency run by their government -- will be transferred into the banking account of the coffee shop. The terms of that transaction will have been set by the bank that the shop is paying to use their services.
Under a decentralized framework, however, that middleman is eliminated. One of the biggest advantages to that decentralized system is security. Under a central system, all a hacker has to do to access data is open the one door into the storage space. Under a distributed ledger, though, the hacker would have to simultaneously open millions, potentially billions of doors spread across the world to access that same amount of data. Plus, they wouldn’t even be able to open them all if they tried -- each transaction in a distributed ledger requires consensus among peers that wouldn’t be granted during a security breach. Two consumers opening up an app to trade tokens between each other? No problem. A hacker trying to siphon those coins for themself? Another peer is not consenting to that, so the transaction would be stopped dead in its tracks.
Luckily, that peer-to-peer sharing and consensus can happen in seconds, making blockchain technology far more efficient than current centralized systems. That’s partly because there are no stoppages from third parties. Assets can go from Beijing to Budapest to Baltimore and back again, nearly instantaneously and without the middleman that must approve a check before it clears or slap a fee on a foreign transaction.
Some banks and companies are already experimenting with distributed ledgers. There are also solid efforts underway to help communities build local, decentralized Internet infrastructure in an effort to combat the downsides of both centralization and the ongoing threat to net neutrality.
It could be years before those efforts produce change, though. And even then, they might have to rely on a third party administrator that would wind up negating many of the benefits of decentralization.
What we are seeing today is more and more people turning to platforms like AirSwap, a Brooklyn-based team of industry veterans building a decentralized exchange. Their newest product, called Token Trader, makes it safe and efficient for consumers to trade assets and cryptocurrencies. The platform makes it easy to find tokens on a network of traders, negotiate deals amongst themselves, and then trade however they best see fit… without fees.
Since a central administrator is never in control of a users’ assets, liquidity is not a problem. That makes the protocol and technology far more scalable than some of the other blockchain networks that are popping up in this emerging space.
Plus, the accounts are anonymous. That doesn't only eliminate one of the barriers to entry that some users face, it's also another layer of security.
That security is one of AirSwap's greatest advantages over other exchange platforms. In addition to providing a decentralized framework, AirSwap also makes sure that user assets are stored in only the safest wallets. That storage is critical. Although blockchain technology offers greater security than other platforms, some cryptocurrency exchanges still use hot wallets. That means that the wallet is always connected to the Internet, making it more vulnerable to attack. The recent cyber attack on Coincheck is a perfect example of how hot wallets can fail consumers. Coincheck's use of hot wallets, as well as its lack of a multi-signature system, led to what experts are saying could be the worst cryptocurrency breach in history, with hackers running away with more than 500 million NEM tokens, or about $400 million.
AirSwap, on the other hand, uses a type of cold wallet called a hardware wallet. Hardware wallets can be connected to the Internet if need be, but they stay offline otherwise, meaning a hacker can't access it. A user will always have the key to their hardware wallet, though, and only they will be able to use that key to initiate or sign off a peer-to-peer trade.
A New Era of Decentralization
The decentralized system that AirSwap operates on opens up new possibilities far beyond the realm of cryptocurrencies. Practical applications would be numerous in industries including healthcare, real estate, energy, art, and the Internet of Things. Cutting out the middleman could vastly improve efficiency in these complex marketplaces and lead to greater trust in these institutions.
Most importantly, though, it would give consumers freedom and transparency that they never thought they could earn from some of the world’s establishments. People are fed up with having to trust corporate overlords or Chairmen of the Federal Reserve or investment brokers who are actually running Ponzi schemes. Now, the technology exists for them to have greater freedom in earning assets and the ability to make their own decisions about how they use those assets. The power would be back in the hands where it belongs.
Each recipient of this communication expressly acknowledges that the AirSwap tokens are being sold solely for the purpose of providing purchasers of such tokens with access to the services associated with the tokens, and that such persons are not being offered, and will not be purchasing, any tokens for any other purposes, including, but not limited to, any investment, speculative or other financial purpose. Each recipient further acknowledges that they are aware of the commercial risks associated with AirSwap and the network associated with its tokens.