Bitmark + IFTTT: How to take ownership of your digital life and plan your estate.
What would happen to your personal data and digital assets if something happened to you?
The process of preparing for the transfer of assets after death is known as estate planning. Estate, a common law term, means an individual’s property, entitlements, and obligations. In modern society, legal systems have elegant solutions for handling the assets that we accumulate and create in the physical world. But increasingly the stuff we create and value most exists only in our digital lives, where there’s no system for individual ownership. In the digital environment estate planning is a minefield.
Individual humans create value by living their lives online — producing works of art, sharing ideas and opinions, uploading personal financial and health information, or buying and storing things like music and movies.
But we don’t own our stuff on the internet. We give it away for free, and, in the process, we’re losing our ability to plan for our future.
The Bitmark mission is to empower universal digital ownership, and we’re making simple tools that help you gain freedom and control of your most valuable data within the digital environment. If we could own our digital lives just like we own everything we buy and build in the physical world, wouldn’t this add to our wealth and freedom? We think so. To make digital estate planning more accessible and automated for everyone, Bitmark has partnered with IFTTT, an IoT service that gives users greater control of their personal data across a wide variety of apps and online services.
“We’re excited to have Bitmark as a partner. They’re a unique service, and doing something incredibly ambitious. Applets will help reach a broader audience that’s just beginning to think about digital data ownership and attribution.” —Linden Tibbets, CEO of IFTTT
Start your digital estate in 5 minutes.
To get you going, we have an initial set of IFTTT Applets that interface with the digital environments where you create and share things: social media, fitness and health apps, productivity and financial software, and much more:
These Applets apply a mark of accepted ownership to your data and embed it into Bitmark’s standardized, universal digital property system. It’s an automated process that transforms your data into an asset that you own and pass down to loved ones.
We recommend you experiment with a few of these Applets first, and then decide which data and assets are most valuable to you. (If you’re lacking ideas, we published a blog post earlier this summer about what two of our Bitmark team members would choose.)
Here is how this process will look:
Once IFTTT is authorized, it automatically bitmarks your new property via the connected Applets. You can view your property in Bitmark’s app, where you can also issue new bitmarks for any other document type on your computer or phone:
Next steps: Grant access to your estate (coming soon).
When property ownership is clear, the access and management rights to your estate, (known as fiduciary duty) is more easily worked out. These details will depend on local regulation, in the same manner as the things we own in the physical world.
Usually it requires a long, expensive, legal process for your loved ones to access your accounts — your emails, cloud storage, and digital data that’s in your name. Not to mention that, in many cases (read Twitter’s deceased user article, or Wiki article about Death and the Internet), your loved ones will never be allowed access to your accounts, and if they try, it will be a criminal offense. Ouch.
Bitmark for digital estate planning has two goals: 1) provide individuals with a structured, secure system for assigning ownership to your digital assets and data; 2) pave the way to a more free and fair legal framework for our digital lives and valuables.
Think of what we are providing today as a basic first step. Bitmark’s tools provide a framework and infrastructure to begin organizing and protecting your digital property. In the future we will add more options that make it easier to assign access to your digital estate with your lawyer, spouse, and loved ones.
“Bitmark’s work with IFTTT confirms and tracks ownership of online data, which is a significant step towards intentional management of any digital estate and future planning for incapacity and death.” — Megan L. Yip, Attorney, Estate planning and digital assets
Bitmark is empowering the individual to take back ownership.
Bitmark is the property system for the digital environment. As a system to manage digital property, Bitmark makes it possible to own and transfer title to anyone. For individuals, ownership is power. By establishing ownership to your data, you can in turn derive value from your digital property just as you do from the things you own in the physical world: selling, buying, transferring, donating, licensing, passing down, protecting, and much more.
This tool for digital estate planning is just one piece of our larger mission to empower universal digital ownership so we can live free online. Digital property will level the playing field for who can achieve success online — creating new avenues for wealth, prosperity, and achievement on the Internet that are not currently possible for the vast majority of people.
Read our “Defining Property in the Digital Realm: parts one, two, and three for a more in-depth context to this post.
If you would like to stay posted on future applications of Bitmark and how we are transforming the Internet into a new system built on individual freedom and empowerment, subscribe to our newsletter.
Best practices for safely bitmarking your data & organizing your digital assets.
When I talk to people about Bitmark there is confusion about digital property. I think most of this confusion boils down to what exactly is in a property title (or in the digital realm, a “bitmark”), and what is in the asset itself.
A title is a public ownership claim over an asset. The asset itself can be made public or kept private — that’s totally up to the owner. Titles are always public. One function of the title is to uniquely identify that asset. (You can think of that like the address to your home on its deed or the vehicle ID number on your car title). But titles do more. Titles make property rights transferrable from one owner to another. That has massive value which we will explain later. In this article, I want to focus on clarifying what should and should not be in a digital title, thus how you should and shouldn’t bitmark your stuff. Let’s use an example to get started.
The Applet automatically created the following digital property:
The property bitmark (title) represents rights to access my location data. This record is visible from the Registry. Thus, if I wanted to give or sell my location data (asset), I would not want that data embedded in the title itself. Yet that is what this Applet did. Inside the public metadata of the bitmark contains a link to my actual location:
Location is a data set that most people would think of as sensitive. I know I do. Putting sensitive data into the title is not what we want.
What should go in a title?
It is important that the title describes the asset, usually from an economic value perspective, without revealing potentially sensitive information about the asset itself.
Here are three examples to help clarify:
Fitbit daily activity — Put things like date and device type, maybe a defining characteristic like age or gender (your preference) in the title. Everything else (step count, calories burned, food ate, sleep cycle, and heart information, …) should go in the asset itself. Folks who want the metadata for their research purposes, can ask your permission, you give consent and they get the full asset.
Instagram photos — Similar to health data, you’ll want to name your photo title something that defines the asset like a caption. You can include the time, location, date or the bare minimum of information that makes it memorable and valuable. If the Bitmark property system becomes a sort of marketplace one day, a gallery buyer can potentially search relevant titles for something they want to highlight in their next show. The asset is the photo itself.
Medium stories — Include sparse but important information about the piece, date, author, or title perhaps. The metadata is the story itself. By being bitmarked, we hope someday these titles will be checked or authenticated, so that when content is shared over messaging apps, the reader knows they are reading a verified source. Think similarly to the blue check box next to certain handles on Twitter.
Bitmark is the universal property ownership system for digital environment.
One of the most important functions a formal property system does is to transform assets from a less accessible state to a more accessible state, so that ownership can be easily communicated and assembled within a broader network. When an individual asserts ownership over their data control points change: networks become economies.
Converting an asset such as a house into an abstract concept such as a property right requires a complex system to record and organize the socially and economically useful attributes of ownership. The act of embodying an asset in a property title and recording it in a public ledger facilitates a consensus among actors as to how assets can be held, used, and exchanged.
Bitmark is about imagining a future where individual internet users will take back ownership of their digital lives — a new internet built on individual freedom and empowerment where everyone has a chance at success. This freedom stems from ownership of digital property just as we own everything we buy and build in the physical world.
If you’re interested in going deeper, one of the best features of the IFTTT platform is that you can create your own Applets, extending core functionality that the service provides. For anyone looking to extend our service here is a list of metadata options to consider:
These options come from our web app and they work well for most personal data and digital assets. We recommend using them, but you can also create your own metadata. Just be clear on what will always be public (titles) and what can be kept private (assets). A good analogy to keep in mind is that the deed (title) to your home doesn’t reveal what’s inside your home, but it does explain where to find your home.
What valuable items would you miss if your phone or computer was lost or stolen today?
If you were in an accident, would your loved ones be able to gain access to your digital valuables — your personal data and digital assets — if you were incapacitated? If you were to die tomorrow, which pieces of your digital property would you want your loved ones to have?
Here’s what Sean Moss-Pultz, our CEO, would take if his digital house was on fire:
Master keys for digital assets (bitcoin, ethereum, bitmark, …)
Recover codes for password manager
Recover codes for encrypted hard drives
Recover codes for online accounts with 2FA
SSH keys and config file
Genomic data (23andMe)
Notes containing important family, financial, tax, medical information
Personal photos and videos (on phones, and on instagram)
Music playlists (Spotify and Apple)
Important personal and business documents from specific cloud storage folders
And here is what Wan Lin, our summer intern, would take with her:
Personal and Facebook photos (family and boyfriend)
Instagram photos and videos
Evernote note with #work tag
Files in the “Bitmark” folder on Google Drive
Master thesis, saved in Dropbox
University acceptance letter
Facebook friends list
Business contacts in iOS contact
Name cards scanned and saved in Evernote
WordPress blog posts
Data from password management app
Signed work contracts attached in emails
Reading notes saved in Evernote
Video of the first day my son walked by himself (when she has a son and that happens)
Emails related to unfinished client work, so she can continue the work
Artworks on Behance
Starred Gmail emails
Why didn’t Sean and Wan Lin include access to their Facebook and other online accounts, purchased items like Adobe Photoshop, digital music, and eBooks? The short answer is that they didn’t want their friends and family to go to jail.
Online accounts are governed by the terms-of-service agreement to which you agreed (or, more likely, clicked a mandatory agreement box without reading) upon opening your account. Those agreements, plus state and federal privacy laws and laws that criminalize unauthorized access to computers, severely limit access to online accounts. In many situations it is a criminal offense to share your accounts with any 3rd-party no matter your relation to them.
Software and digital media is equally problematic. Contracts with service providers may be automatically terminated (by the terms of service) when a customer dies. This means that there is no right for heirs to access that data. To add insult to injury, this is compounded by the fact that many digital assets are only granted with non-transferrable rights of use (a license agreement). For example, both Amazon and Apple only offer their digital products with single user rights. This means that digital products bought through such services can only be used by the purchaser, and cannot be passed on.
This is just the beginning of a conversation around living digital.
The Bitmark mission is to empower universal digital ownership so we can live free online. One of our tools will be a collection of IFTTT applets to get started building your digital estate. These applets will interface with the digital environments where we create and share things: social media, fitness and health apps, productivity and financial software, and much more. They allow users to simply apply a mark of accepted ownership to new creations and embed it into the standardized, universal digital property system Bitmark has created. This allows individuals to derive value from their digital property just as we all do from the things we own in the physical world — selling, buying, transferring, donating, licensing, passing down, protecting, and much more.
Defining Property in the Digital Environment. Part Three.
Bitmark, the property system for the digital environment.
In Part One of the series we took a look at the history of property while Part Two made the connection on how the prerequisite for privacy is property rights. This final post introduces a solution for defining digital property, Bitmark.
Bitmarks as property titles
The Bitmark system achieves extremely low transaction costs by supplanting conventional centrally controlled property systems with a shared, distributed ledger for recording digital property titles, or bitmarks, for any digital asset. A bitmark consists of four basic elements:
an asset fingerprint
an owner account
a digital signature
A bitmark’s asset fingerprint is created by applying a cryptographic hash function to a digital asset. The resulting fingerprint is an alphanumeric value that uniquely and permanently identifies the digital asset. The asset metadata consists of the property’s name and relevant attributes, as defined by the bitmark’s original issuer. The owner account identifies the current owner’s Bitmark account number, which is a cryptographic public key. The owner may choose to publicly link his or her identity with this account number, depending on the desired level of privacy. A digital signature is a secure mark of authenticity that is appended to the bitmark when first issued or whenever it is transferred to a new owner. One way to think of a bitmark is as an unforgeable chain of digital signatures that form the property’s provenance.
The Bitmark Blockchain
To enable this recording of property titles across the full depth and breadth of the Internet, Bitmark supplements existing methods for tracking provenance with a globally accessible property ledger known as the Bitmark blockchain. Blockchain technology is the key innovation of the Bitcoin currency and refers to a digital ledger that is publicly yet anonymously shared to all members of a peer-to-peer network. The Bitmark blockchain contains every single property title and ownership transfer ever recorded in the Bitmark system. This Internet-native ownership registry allows the Bitmark system to satisfy all the functional requirements of conventional property systems in a single public data resource:
At a more granular level, each bitmark consists of a chain of transfer records that weaves in and out of different blocks of transactions to create its provenance. The authenticity of each property’s provenance is maintained by continuously verifying this chain of owner signatures.
As an example, consider the figure above, in which a Bitmark user named Alice issues a bitmark for a specific digital asset. Her Bitmark app first uses a cryptographic hashing function to generate a unique fingerprint for the digital asset along with an issuance record for the bitmark which lists Alice as the owner. Alice’s app also digitally signs the issuance record with her private key. Once it has been verified by the Bitmark network, this issuance record is aggregated into latest block of the Bitmark blockchain (let’s say block 13). When Alice later wishes to transfer ownership of the property to Bob, Alice directs her Bitmark app to create a transfer record that contains a link back to her previous issuance record, designates Bob as the new owner, and digitally signs the transfer record with her private key. Once this transfer record has been verified by the network to contain an authentic signature from the current owner (Alice), the transfer record is recorded in block 20 of the blockchain, at which point ownership passes to Bob. This method of requiring the current owner to digitally sign ownership transfers creates an unforgeable provenance for a property. The Bitmark system has been architected to support multiple digital signing methods, including digital signatures that guard against the possibility of future attacks from post-quantum computers.
Strength Through Decentralization
Unlike conventional property systems that rely on a handful of trusted government officials to act as centralized gatekeepers, the Bitmark blockchain is an open and transparent property system that is strengthened through the active participation of anyone on the Internet. The integrity of Bitmark’s open-source blockchain is ensured by a peer-to-peer network of voluntary participants running the Bitmark node software called bitmarkd. These software nodes are incentivized to participate in verifying Bitmark property transactions through the possibility of winning monetary and property rewards.
A more diverse and decentralized participant community means a more robust property system for everyone.
Every Bitmark property transfer requires a nominal transaction fee. One reason for this fee is to discourage vandals from spamming the blockchain. A second reason is to motivate the participating nodes to independently compete against one another to be the first node to verify the current block of transactions and “win” that block. A node wins a block by solving a difficult computational problem called a proof-of-work, which functions like a lottery to randomly select a winner.
Whenever a node announces itself to the network as the winner of a block, it presents its result so that the entire peer network can instantly check the proof-of-work and validate the block’s transactions. After confirming the block’s validity, non-winning nodes “vote” for the winner by adding the block as the next block in their local blockchains. The block winner is then awarded all the aggregated transaction fees for that block. As an added incentive, the Bitmark system treats the blocks that comprise its blockchain as digital properties in and of themselves, and the block winner is also issued a bitmark for that block. Block owners are entitled to collect royalties on all future property transfers for properties whose issuance records are recorded in their blocks. The ability for nodes to win ownership of blocks not only creates a further incentive for node participation but also reduces transaction costs for adding digital properties to the Bitmark system to near zero.
This strategy of rewarding an open network of peers for competitively verifying the results of one another’s work creates an impregnable security model that is an emergent property of the individual peer interactions themselves. Unlike centralized property systems, which suffer from increased negative externalities as larger populations exploit the shared resource, Bitmark’s decentralized blockchain grows more resilient and valuable as the network grows. As a method for encouraging the widest possible participant base, the Bitmark blockchain has been designed to resist centralized monopolization of network node resources. Unlike preceding blockchains, many of which have become vulnerable to the outsized influence of a few well-financed mining pools, the Bitmark blockchain has implemented a proof-of-work algorithm that has proven itself largely impervious to the high-end custom mining hardware that has led to the inequitable concentration of Bitcoin mining power, thereby diversifying node participation and fostering cost-competitiveness among independent participant nodes. Wherever possible, Bitmark has endeavored to build upon the lessons of pioneering blockchain systems to broaden network participation because a more diverse and decentralized participant community means a more robust property system for everyone.
Data Privacy Through Digital Property
Bitmark affirms individual privacy rights within the digital environment by, first, allowing anyone to create private property from any type of digital asset and, second, by implementing strong encryption measures for the digital assets themselves. The ability to convert any type of digital assets — whether content or metadata — into private property makes any unauthorized data access a violation of one’s property rights, thereby providing an added measure of legal defense against unwarranted search and seizure of digital properties. Asserting explicit private property claims are particularly advantageous in incipient domains where digital property rights remain murky, such as device location data, Internet-of-Things traffic, or collaboratively authored social media content. As more of our daily activities are inconspicuously scattered across different third-party cloud servers, Bitmark offers a mechanism for asserting clear ownership claims to personal data, even in cases where individuals have voluntarily consented to provide their data to third-party services.
There will undoubtedly be cases where governments or other entities succeed in circumventing Bitmark’s legal and technical privacy protections and obtain access to owners’ properties, whether through legitimate due process, abuses of power, or radical political upheaval. History is replete with examples of asset forfeiture, eminent domain, expropriation, and nationalization, in which the powers that be have forcefully seized selected populations’ properties and subsequently reallocated their property rights. One of the glaring liabilities of government-administered property systems is their inherent susceptibility to the vagaries of political climates. By providing a shared global property ledger independent from any single institution, regime, or hegemony, the Bitmark blockchain serves as a permanent and politically agnostic record of ownership claims. While the blockchain can never prevent the possibility of government confiscation of one’s assets, it does provide an enduring record of ownership claims that can serve as grounds for future contestation of property rights should political conditions change.
In addition to providing increased legal defensibility of digital properties, Bitmark employs strong technical measures for protecting digital assets during transfer and storage. By default, Bitmark encrypts all digital assets so that only verified property owners can access their properties. Whenever a property’s bitmark is transferred to a new owner, the corresponding asset is encrypted then transferred so that only the new owner can access it. This method of end-to-end encryption affords asset protection for local or remote storage in addition to safe asset transfer over the Internet or across peer-to-peer file-sharing networks.
Additionally, the Bitmark system protects owners’ identities by default. Even though every bitmark issuance and transfer record is freely accessible in the public Bitmark blockchain, these records only contain references to owners’ cryptographic public keys, which function as pseudonymous identifiers devoid of any personal information. In cases where owners wish to have their accounts tied to their personal identities, they can opt to publicly link their Bitmark public key to other verifiable means of identification, including web domains, Twitter accounts, and GitHub accounts. This combination of asserting private property rights over digital assets as a legal safeguard for data privacy in conjunction with leveraging strong encryption protocols for protecting the privacy and integrity of the digital assets achieves a level of privacy protection commensurate with long-standing protections for physical properties.
Bitmark allows creators to exert clear ownership claims to digital properties so that they can be fairly recognized and compensated for their efforts… Similarly, Bitmark extends real property rights to consumers by granting them full control over the disposition of their properties.
Towards a Healthy Digital Environment
The Internet’s earliest pioneers and homesteaders demonstrated little regard for something as prosaic and establishmentarian as property rights. To them, the early Internet held the promise of a vast, utopian frontier where humans could transcend the age-old restrictions of physical existence and come together in an unfettered society of the mind. For these early explorers, the Internet’s lack of property rights was not a bug, but a feature. Yet for all the romantic allure of frontiers, the Internet has turned out to be a pretty rough place, precisely because it lacks the rule of law that has developed to protect individual rights within modern societies. In frontiers, more often than not, might makes right, and one person’s new-found liberation is another’s negative externality.
The Internet has democratized communication to such a degree that today anyone with a networked device can instantly connect to hundreds of millions of people. A teenager with a smartphone and a Facebook account can become an Internet sensation overnight. But for most of its existence, the Internet has not possessed a similarly democratized means for valuing what happens in its spaces. E-commerce exists, of course, but primarily only as high-friction articulation points between the Internet and conventional financial systems. It is ironic that credit cards, whose security model hinges on absolute privacy of account numbers, have become the default payment method for the Internet. When limited to the physical point-of-sale payments for which credit cards were originally designed, their fraud risk was manageable. Credit card designers never anticipated that people would voluntarily give their credit card numbers to anonymous entities on the Internet. Retrofitting the ill-suited credit card system to underpin e-commerce has required a monumental centralization of technical and commercial infrastructure, which has largely come at the expense of increased fees for merchants and greater incursions on individual customer privacy than are necessary for the lion’s share of online transactions.
If one considers the level of decentralization and privacy afforded by simple physical cash, e-commerce gateways represent a large leap away from the decentralized spirit of the Internet rather than a step toward it. Only with the advent of Bitcoin in 2008 did the Internet have its own truly endogenous currency — a unit of exchange as decentralized as the Internet itself. Suddenly, anyone with a networked device could freely engage in the kinds of financial transactions that had previously been the exclusive domain of sovereign states and their monetary trustees. Suddenly, the frontier had a native means for anyone in the world to exchange money as safely and privately as one might exchange a text message or selfie.
Just as e-commerce sites offered an intermediate remedy to the problem of payments on the Internet, “digital rights management” (DRM) has served as a stopgap for the lack of an Internet-native property system. However, DRM concentrates too much power in the hands of a few centralized gatekeepers at the expense of individual property rights for everyone else. Although DRM platforms position themselves as altruistically doing the heavy lifting required to make the digital economy work, the reality is that DRM platforms only serve their own interests by further locking both creators and consumers into their platforms. While DRM offers the semblance of digital property rights, in actuality DRM functions more as an extralegal police force that — as cases like Amazon’s 1984 incident have made clear — is solely concerned with hamfisted enforcement of its own platform policies, even at the expense of trampling over long-established individual property rights.
Conversely, property rights offer an elegant solution that has already evolved to be decentralized in the same way that physical currency is already decentralized. Centuries of legal precedents have already balanced property rights to protect both creators and owners. What is needed, therefore, is not the engineering of a new kind of police force for the digital environment but rather an Internet-native property system that brings already established property rights to digital assets. What is needed is a system that allows anyone to safely and easily claim and transfer property rights in the digital environment as safely and easily as they can transfer physical properties.
Bitmark has built this property system for the digital environment. Particularly with the emergence of the Internet-of-Things, we are realizing that the Internet is not some idealized, disembodied, virtual realm that is discontinuous with our physical realities. Rather, the Internet is deeply embedded in our physical world and increasingly orders and controls its relations. This convergence between physical and digital environments makes establishing clarity around digital property rights all the more urgent.
The Internet can no longer be governed by a frontier code. The resultant negative externalities — from widespread privacy intrusions to rampant online piracy to entire asset classes mired in dead capital — are just too numerous and too acute to remain unaddressed. We have reached a tipping point at which we must pose the same question of the digital environment that we have previously asked of our physical environment: Are we creating the kind of world that we want future generations to inherit?
Bitmark both strengthens and expands the Internet’s essentially decentralized, open, and transparent ethos. The Bitmark blockchain supplants the byzantine jumble of archaic, expensive, and incompatible state-controlled property systems with a single cryptographically secure, extremely low-cost, and globally accessible system for tracking properties and provenance. By bringing both market forces and the rule of law to the digital environment, Bitmark allows creators to exert clear ownership claims to digital properties so that they can be fairly recognized and compensated for their efforts. Similarly, Bitmark extends real property rights to consumers by granting them full control over the disposition of their properties. As an all-inclusive property system that respects and accommodates jurisdictional differences, Bitmark broadens the types of commerce that can occur, thereby reducing the expediency of solutions that result in negative externalities. This ability to extend economic participation to every corner of the Internet creates value for the larger global economy by transforming the digital environment’s deepening morass of negative externalities into a new property boom capable of powering the next major economic revolution.
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