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September 20, 2016updated 21 Sep 2016 2:36pm

Does Accenture’s blockchain editing patent threaten the future of cryptocurrencies?

Consultancy firm could remove one of the core principles.

By James Nunns

One of blockchain’s founding principles, the desire for it to be an immutable ledger of events without a central authority controlling it is under threat.

Consultancy firm Accenture has been working to patent a technique that will create the ability to edit information which is stored in the ledger. The idea behind the move is to make the technology more commercially appealing to banks.

However, it threatens to anger groups which aim to keep the crpytocurrency true to its founding principles. Essentially, the belief is that a blockchain should un-changed over time and not controlled by a central authority.

Richard Lumb, global head of financial services at Accenture, wrote in The New York Times in September that the immutable nature of blockchain clashes with privacy laws, in Europe and the US.

The problem is that the immutability can hinder blockchain’s usefulness in some areas of financial services, for example where certain things need to be removed from records for legal reason, or due to mischief.

The reason this is an issue is because of the growing popularity of blockchain. It has increasingly been trialled by banks across the world in order to see what usefulness it would have. Santander has been piloting its use with an international payments app.

Accenture's redactable blockchain patent could anger people.

Accenture’s redactable blockchain patent could anger people.

So to solve the problem Accenture and Giuseppe Ateniese, a professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, have filed a patent for a technique called “chameleon hash” which works by adding a lock between units in a blockchain, which an administrator would be able to unlock and edit.

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The chameleon hash forms part of a prototype that the consultancy company will be hoping puts it in a strong position to deal with financial services, especially those that have been piloting the technology but may have become concerned about its immutability.

While this technology may give financial services much greater control over blockchain, it also raises fears about the fundamental principles of blockchain, which for many made it such an appealing prospect in the first place.

Blockchain offered an accountability in the wake of years of financial turmoil and a technology which allows for the removal of the past should be approached with caution.

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