Nazi gold, identity and the need to believe — it’s time for blockchain to fix fraud

Patterns in the jungle. It’s the nature of being human that when we are in the grip of new awareness and excitement for something, then we start to see evidence of it everywhere.

We’ve been working on identity at and proving to others you are who you claim to be. This is something we do fluently in real life — whether opening the door to a delivery, or a loved one we manage a range of non-verbal cues and apply checks almost unthinkingly, unless something appears fishy.

When online, this is turned on its head; because of the potential for digital to expose and scale weaknesses which can be exploited for financial gain, espionage or just data theft the starting point is to assume the worst.

Making people begin their journey outside the castle gates, challenged to gain entry on the occupants’ terms makes perfect sense in a commercial context online, and has an element of gamification to it, though it may not feel fun! Ebay reps, reviews and star ratings are how tech companies create social currency in a way which mimics what we do intuitively offline.

With so many people now bounced online for the first time by Covid19, it feels right to rethink that journey. People can tell their own identity story, using attested events and corroborating artefacts as they see fit, rather than having a virtual bouncer at the door when they want to volunteer for a cause, apply for a loan or just talk about their data.

Sure, there is scope for abuse, Walter Mitty flights of fantasy and providing the means for building false narratives. But this is nothing new or peculiar to digital.

Breaking from Zoom calls for a coffee the other day, I overheard a radio program in the kitchen about Sir Gawain and the green knight, one of the most famous Arthurian myths and inspiration for many films and game plots, both classic and cheesy.

What struck me is the poem was ‘lost’ for almost 500 years after creation in 14th Century Wales, until the point it was discovered in the British Museum by a Victorian scholar. From there, a small, learned community amplified its themes of chivalry, duty and romance, not least because these were things they wanted for their own society.

Later, Tolkien got in on the act, translating the text into modern English, and we all know where his ideas ended up. Was there creation as well as interpretation of the story going on here?

An idea of the need to believe running through our DNA was echoed for me by a story that 28 tonnes of nazi gold could be hidden beneath a Polish castle, picked up by the Daily Mail and others.

In a plot straight out of a Dan Brown novel, it seems a nazi officer helpfully recorded details of the stash in his diary and entrusted this to the freemasons for half a century, who now bring it to light, suitably aged and yellowed.

This story seems to be the latest, most creative update of the long-running ‘gold train’ myth but it shows how we need to create narratives around the past and imbue items with symbolic (and actual) value.

How much of the provenance and history of valuable antiques was created in the recent past? Building an independent statement of record for this seems a great use case for blockchain, which has struggled to find real-world relevance in recent years.

I’m also optimistic we’ll soon move beyond the ‘let me see your papers’ stage of identity and build tools and systems which more closely mirror the way we behave as humans, warts and all.

In real life, armed with my passport, face and a purpose I can get a lot done and open new paths, good and bad — these disrupted times should be the push we need to take control online, too.

Privacy Technologist & Entrepreneur, Blockchain CEO, Senior Tutor @theidm, lapsed Archaeologist, SE London, bass guitar in @Ton50Band

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store