A Brief View as a Vigitrust Advisory Board Panelist
Dublin-based Vigitrust provides solutions that help businesses comply with regulations in an increasingly complex global economy. I recently participated in their annual advisory board symposium on compliance and cyber in Dublin. The timing could not have been better for covering topics like blockchain, crypto and compliance.
Regulations are all around us, closing in like an Indiana Jones trap room. GDPR is now the most visible, but there are others. What sets GDPR apart, however, is its stringency. Last, but not least, GDPR goes further with penalties for data violators.
There are many industries that are especially challenged with GDPR compliance. Perhaps none contrasts more with immutable data privacy laws than an immutable networking technology we call blockchain, and its most visible application, crypto currency; they were the centerpiece at the Vigitrust event.
The crypto pioneers were anti-establishment. They sought out a world in which currency belonged to the people rather than the banks or government, and transactions were invisible to regulators. The solutions that crypto founding fathers created to enable a viable crypto reality are quite brilliant, but the very nature of crypto conflicts with GDPR.
Among the speakers were some of the world’s top people in the field. It was eye-opening to hear first-hand the difficulties and implications of implementing GDPR, and about what businesses have been doing to fall in line. One thing that quickly became clear was that it is virtually impossible for small businesses to fully comply with GDPR. Regulators must either absolve them or levy fines affecting hundreds of thousands. I left very uncomfortable about this, as Fusion PR is an SMB.
It was equally interesting to hear about the digital divide between regulators and what effectively became my camp, crypto entrepreneurs and blockchain advocates. I knew going into the discussion that the watchdogs are primarily interested in rules (not innovation). But I was surprised to learn of their discomfort with ideas that for us were irrelevant, like who is this Satoshi Nakamoto. Crypto fans say, ‘who cares?’ In fact, there’s a mystique about the formation of Bitcoin and frankly, the raison d’etre of crypto is to provide a deregulated immutable ledger of transactions. Beyond that, we just don’t care. Not so for the regulators.
I did my part in explaining crypto concepts like mining and hashing. These words get thrown around quite a bit and outside the crypto world, they’re just completely misunderstood. Regulation is coming to the U.S., we all know it. What I hope for is an Internet-like regulated environment in which (barring illegal activities) crypto can thrive, taxes are payed, investments are made and lost and the vast benefits of crypto can actually help shape a better world.
Unfortunately, regulations are already off to an inauspicious start. It certainly appears that the idea of a utility token is soon to be a distant memory in the U.S. I tend to err on the side of my crypto colleagues who believe in “live and let live, invest and let invest.” If an investor is an individual who chooses to buy into someone else’s vision, so long as that vision is presented and managed fairly, then win or lose, let the chips fall where they may. I wouldn’t want the government telling me or anyone else where not to invest. Nor do I appreciate crypto startups being forced into securities guidelines, transaction fees, securities lawyers and accountants, all of whom ironically tally up a pretty big fee that weighs down the ability of these startups to act with agility and aggressiveness.
Do I want protection from fraudsters or cyber-attacks? You bet! But if it were up to me, I’d let pure capitalism play out in crypto terms where the pace of business – and potential for innovation – surpasses even the once venerable dotcoms. Of course, many of those companies never had a business model and flamed out long ago. Others gave rise to Google, Amazon, eBay, and so many other disrupters. Let’s allow crypto and blockchain to surpass even those titans.
I could not conclude these thoughts on the Advisory Board Meeting without offering my appreciation to Ken Munro of Pen Test Partners, who had one of the most enlightening and insightful presentations (with props and demos) on cyber-attacks and showed how the simplest gizmo can be turned into a weapon against an individual or a nation. Also, a big shout out and thanks to Mathieu Gorge, for organizing the event and inviting me to participate; and my co-panelists, James Grundvig and Kevin Barry of Myntum.