How this blockchain startup is building user privacy within online data collection surveys
Ever since the internet came into existence, digital privacy has been a battle. Whether it is securing companies from cyber threats or protecting individual’s information from data breaches and data leaks, the fight has been hard.
It becomes all the more critical when collecting sensitive data on surveys like mental health, sexual health, activism, and others. Although there are platforms like Google Forms, Survey Monkey, and TypeForm, among others, the data here is stored in an unencrypted manner in a centralised database, increasing the vulnerability.
Bengaluru-based startup BlockSurvey looks to make a disruption here. Launched in January 2020 by Wilson Bright and Raja Ilayaperumal, BlockSurvey is a decentralised blockchain-powered data collection platform.
The Bengaluru-based startup enables businesses and individuals to create no-code online forms and surveys and collect data based on anonymity.
“The idea of BlockSurvey emerged when we won a Hackathon conducted by Stacks Blockchain in 2019. We moved out in 2019 and started with Blocksurvey and finally made the official launch in 2020,” Wilson tells YourStory.
The company turned cash positive within six months of the timeframe, and in the next nine months, it is expecting to break even.
Incubated by Afthonia Lab, BlockSurvey currently has 500+ active members and is used by individuals and companies. The total data downloaded using their services is more than 100GB until now.
Explaining the gaps in online data collection
For internet users, online accounts work as a digital identity. When using any survey tool, this digital identity for the platform in use is centralised and is stored in an unencrypted manner.
“In simple words, the account and your data are not truly owned by you - the platform provider owns both the account and the data you produce,” Wilson adds.
He further explains that due to this centralisation, data leaks, breaches, censorship, and trust issues are continuing to happen. If the platform provider wants to censor a user or they want to delete a user’s data, they can do it. If they want to access their data, they have access to it.
“This is the drawback of any centralised tech today. The platform provider has complete control over you in the digital space. This is no different in the survey tools space. Typeform data breach in 2018 and data mining issues reported on SurveyMonkey in Australia are a few examples. Anonymous surveys are not really anonymous. There is zero ownership,” he adds.
How does BlockSurvey solve this?
The BlockSurvey UI is downloaded from the webserver and is run on the client. There are no trackers, no cookies, and no fingerprints. For accounts, BlockSurvey uses decentralised identity (DID). In layman’s terms, think of this as a digital account that is coming from a public blockchain.
“Here, your identity is coming from the Stacks Blockchain, which is a public blockchain. Your identity is anchored on a ledger, which you truly own. Not anyone, not the platform provider, not even the blockchain provider,” Wilson emphasises.
Fundamentally, Stacks Blockchain uses Stacks API for identity, auth, and storage management. This is the core working system that enables true ownership of the identity and data for you. Stacks Blockchain is anchored to Bitcoin, which enables the collection and sharing of data with guaranteed end–to–end encryption and privacy.
“Think of Stacks as a development tool kit, which helps you to build on Bitcoin. Many today believe Bitcoin is just currency. But it is actually a trust protocol on top of the Internet which allows you to build any user owned internet applications. Stacks blockchain helps you to build applications on top of Bitcoin at scale,” he adds.
For data storage, the startup uses a decentralised/private storage called Gaia, which is accessible only to the user. Not anyone, not even BlockSurvey.
One can think of this as storing on their remote hard disk, which is accessible only by the user. But on the cloud, all the data is encrypted end-to-end using the user’s account.
“Only you can unlock your data and not anyone, not even BlockSurvey. All your respondents’ data is known only to you. This makes your work anonymous to the platform provider. This is how blockchain helps BlockSurvey resolve censorship, privacy, security, and ownership issues,” he adds.
Revenue model, challenges, and road ahead
For almost a year, the founders worked in stealth mode. In the first six months of the launch, the platform was made available for free. The startup gained 100 users, which later got converted to paid users once they started with their subscription model.
The startup is using channels like newsletters, SEO, and Reddit, among others, to reach out to its target audience organically.
With the pandemic disrupting businesses and with remote working becoming a reality, cyber criminals have been busy exploiting vulnerabilities. 2020 saw one of the largest numbers of data breaches and the numbers seem to be only rising.
The total number of attacks recorded in India during January and February 2021 was around 15 million. According to a recent study by Infosys-Interbrand, the potential risk in brand value of data breach to the world’s 100 most valuable brands could amount to as much as $223 billion.
“So far, we concentrated on the data collection problem, and have solved for it. Blockchain can find its use cases in multiple scenarios. Our goal is to build as many consumer apps as possible, but right now, our sheer focus is to get as much market share and customers as possible,” Wilson adds.
Going ahead, BlockSurvey aims to earn $200,000 in revenue in the current financial year. The startup did $45,000 in revenue last year, with an MRR of about $2000.