Bitmark CEO Sean Moss-Pultz: “We are at the start of an unprecedented creative period”

Blockchain, Innovation, Interviews, Investing, Opinion | July 13, 2017 By:

Sean Moss-Pultz is the co-founder and CEO of Bitmark, a Taiwan-based company that has created a blockchain system for digital property ownership. He is an expert in developing technology for consumer electronics and Internet services – with a focus on blockchain related projects. Prior to Bitmark, he was a senior executive for EMQ Limited, a financial technology startup. Recognized as a pioneer of open-source hardware, Moss-Pultz launched and was CEO of Openmoko Inc., the first open-source phone and a precursor to iPhone and Android smartphones. He has led his dedicated team of specialists across a number of successful projects. Many of them have now joined him at Bitmark Inc. Moss-Pultz holds bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and physics from UC San Diego.

BlockTribune: Can you tell us a bit about how Bitmark got started?

Sean Moss-Pultz: This was a while back… In 2013, my wife was pregnant. I was flying back and forth from Taiwan to the US and hit really, really bad turbulence. I honestly thought I was going to die and never meet my son. When I landed I called my dad, a lawyer that does estate planning. I asked him how do I put my digital things in order. At the time, I had a ton of digital music, books, and some bitcoin. My dad said that’s a good question – and that no one has ever asked him before. I was dumbfounded. How could someone that practiced law in California, for over 40 years, never have a single client ask how digital assets are transferred when you die?! He then asked me a question that sent us down a rabbit hole. “Are those digital things your property?” he said. “I have no idea,” I replied. It got me thinking, What the hell is property?

I did my own research and was shocked to learn I didn’t own any of this stuff. Amazon granted a “license” to my books. Apple did the same. Both said it was “non-transferable.” (Heck, even my bitcoin I couldn’t figure out how to pass on to my family without first teaching them complicated security.) I realized in that moment that our systems of property—especially digital property—was broken. Even to share or give away something, we have to own it first. Turns out, companies trying to come up with a practical solution to the difficulty of handling digital property switched the conversation from ownership rights to licensing. Yet this has terrible repercussions. In modern society, freedom and economic prosperity means property ownership and accumulation of wealth. Licensing digital assets for use is as different from developing property rights as renting real estate is from owning buildings.

Bitmark was founded to make data into the next major asset.

BlockTribune: What are the challenges of getting people to hand over their sensitive information to a blockchain? Do they differ from real-world issues?

Sean Moss-Pultz: I think the greatest challenges relate to usability. Basic things like key management are exceptionally complicated and fraught with risk. Unless the interfaces for securing keys get a lot better, even security conscious people will struggle with protecting their property.

When it comes to transferring personal data itself, people seem to have no problem sharing such sensitive information. I think as long as there is transparency into what the data will be used for, how it will be kept secure and private, people will see the value in being able to exchange this asset.

BlockTribune: How did your partnership with U of Berkeley happen?

Sean Moss-Pultz: Bitmark’s mission is to empower individuals to assert ownership over their digital lives and take advantage of the value they create online. When the Bitmark team and I looked across the vast amount of personal data humans create on a daily basis, health data really stood out being valuable. I reached out to Stefano M Bertozzi MD, PhD (Dean and Professor of Health Policy & Management at UC Berkeley) and together we came up with the idea of asking the public to donate their personal data to advance Public Health.

The concept was simple: Our phones and Fitbits track our steps, calories, sleep cycles, and more. This data is empowering and helps improve our wellbeing. This data can also aid research in myriad areas. If you could safely and easily donate your data directly to those who are advancing the frontiers of public health, wouldn’t you want to do that?

One thing that was eye-opening is that we learned that researchers benefit from this digital donation process as much as the participants who are donating their data. Both parties who are using Bitmark (the researchers and the participants) gain security, increased clarity, simplicity, and personal value.

BlockTribune: What were your fundraising challenges for this project?

Sean Moss-Pultz: Luckily we raised a seed round last year so we had an internal budget to fund this.

BlockTribune: What are the advantages of blockchain for health care?

Sean Moss-Pultz: We see three important issues that the Bitmark system can help public health research specifically and health care in general: affording transparent access to data, which would redesign the current data silos that exist within big companies and institutions; providing a network effect of usability via crowdsourcing, by which researchers can get more specific and relevant participation within the difficult, time-consuming task of individual targeting or using costly vendors; automating consent, via Bitmark’s uses of blockchain technology, which will eliminate the need for complex health forms, extra paperwork and slowed outcomes due to piles of backlogged files.

BlockTribune: Does the volatility of cryptocurrency cause any anxiety in the public for sensitive information like health information?

Sean Moss-Pultz: Our blockchain uses bitcoin internally but we don’t need to expose this to individual data donors. Volatility is something that we believe is trending in the right direction.

BlockTribune: What is your timeline for rolling this out?

Sean Moss-Pultz: We announced the Berkeley School of Public Health fellows in late May. During summer, we are working out the operational and technical details to run two studies with the Berkeley School of Public Health. These studies are set to begin in August, when the school session resumes.

After this, we will have some exciting announcements about Bitmark partnerships outside of health data, coming later this year.

BlockTribune: There recently have been some renewed security concerns with exploits of bitcoin blockchains. Will that affect the overall blockchain industry?

Sean Moss-Pultz: It’s been a very long time since the bitcoin blockchain (protocol) itself had real security problems. The security challenges around Bitcoin almost always relate to control of keys. Exchanges, for example, centralize the control of keys and this makes for a rather large honeypot. Thefts happen far too often, even for my comfort level.

BlockTribune: What are your thoughts on the current state of the blockchain space? What sort of developments are you currently following?

Sean Moss-Pultz: Personally, I’m most interested in open, public blockchains. So what is happening in projects like Ethereum, Zcash, and of course bitcoin are fascinating to me.

Naturally I am biased, but I want to say this is the most interesting time period I have ever lived through in technology.

I believe we are at the start of an unprecedented creative period that will rework the institutions that society depends upon, yet fail us in so many ways.

BlockTribune: What are the plans Bitmark has for the upcoming future?

Sean Moss-Pultz: This summer we will release simple tools that allow anyone to start a digital estate, take control over their personal data and digital assets, and begin to build a legacy. It is in partnership with IFTTT, a platform that allows individuals to easily extract their data from the places where we create and share things: social media, fitness and health apps, productivity and financial software, and much more.

The Bitmark Applets allow users to simply apply a mark of accepted ownership to a new creation (photos on Instagram, articles on WordPress, code on Github, and more) and embed it into Bitmark’s standardized, universal digital property system. Ownership allows individuals to derive value from their digital property just as we do from the things we own in the physical world: the ability to trade, transfer, donate, license, bestow, protect, pass down, and much more.

It is something that I have been waiting for almost five years.