Factom Partners with Honduras Government to Build Blockchain-backed Land Registry

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Factom Partners with Honduras Government to Build Blockchain-backed Land Registry
honduras

Texas-based record-keeping service Factom has reportedly partnered with the Honduras government to pilot a program using the blockchain to record land ownership in the country.

The trail will be made with the help of software company Epigraph, a title registry company building “next generation” solutions, based in Austin, Texas. As reported by Reuters, the Honduras government has agreed to use “a permanent and secure land title record system using the underlying technology behind bitcoin.”

The idea to use the blockchain to record land ownership in underdeveloped countries was a use case Factom had in mind since it went live late last year. According to a video by Factom, nearly 70 percent of Latin America’s land is unregistered, leaving the poor, who have most of their wealth in land, vulnerable.

“In the past, Honduras has struggled with land title fraud,” Factom President Peter Kirby told Reuters. “The country’s database was basically hacked. So bureaucrats could get in there and they could get themselves beachfront properties.”

The details of the project remain scarce, and despite Reuters reaching out multiple times to the Honduran government to comment on the partnership, the publication did not get a response. The cost of the project or to what degree the government will be using the blockchain for land registry remains unclear.

The project makes Honduras the second government to use the blockchain to record government data. Earlier this month, Isle of Man’s Department of Economic Development announced it would begin to record the number of digital currency businesses located on the island with the blockchain of the proof-of-stake digital currency Credits. The small country has been the focus of Bitcoin startups because of its business-friendly environment and has 25 cryptocurrency companies located there.

Violent land disputes

According to Factom, the company will be able to solve the country’s land registry problems by recording ownership on the incorruptible blockchain. Bitcoin technology does have potential to be a better store of record than existing options, but, even so, it seems up in the air whether the technology will be able to solve the country’s brutal land issues.

The roots of Honduras’ land conflicts began in the 1970s and ’80s when the government redistributed land, an estimated 120,000 hectares, to poor peasants. In the 1990s the land reform was reversed and, according to local farmers, much of the land was “sold’ to large businesses and politicians through methods of bribery, threats and coercion.

Today, with 79 murders per 100,000 people, Honduras is considered one of the world’s most dangerous countries, and according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, the most unequal country in Latin America. Things have only gotten worse for the country since democratically elected Manuel Zelaya was ousted from power by businessman Roberto Micheletti. Micheletti has reportedly encouraged the oppression of farmers and peasants through “death squads.”

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Ripple Labs Raises $28 Million Series A from Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Seagate
chicago

Ripple Labs, the creator of the international payment network and digital currency Ripple (XRP), has raised a $28 million series A funding round.

The funding round featured many strategic investors including the venture arm of Chicago Mercantile Exchange & Chicago Board of Trade (CME Group Inc.), one of the largest security and future exchange operators in the United States. Other notable investors in the round are Chinese venture capital firm IDG Capital Partners and the global data storage company Seagate Technology.

Previous investors into Ripple Labs including Barry Silbert’s Bitcoin Opportunity Corp., Core Innovation Capital, Vast Ventures, and Venture 51 also participated in the series A.

This new infusion of capital and the strategic investors gained through this round will facilitate the growth of Ripple Labs’ digital currency payment system to new parts of the world. In addition, this funding round may allow Ripple Labs to experiment with using XRP for real time settlement in corporate finance, a new use case for the digital currency.

“Our mission is to modernize decades-old payments infrastructure with IP-based technology so value moves around the world as freely, easily, securely and transparently as information on the web today,” said Ripple Labs CEO and co-founder Chris Larsen in a statement. “Financial institutions, market makers and corporations are laying the foundation for this Internet of Value, contributing and providing liquidity for global payments. With investors like CME Group and Seagate joining the fold, we’re well positioned to accelerate adoption amongst these key customers.”

“Managing a global treasury operation and supply chain finances for one of the world’s largest high-tech storage technology companies puts us in a unique position to understand the frictions and pain points in funds transfer,” said Dave Morton, Senior Vice President of finance and treasury at Seagate Technology. “With its real-time settlement capabilities, we recognize the opportunity for Ripple to reduce money transfer costs, create transparency, and increase working capital in corporate treasury use cases.”

Rumi Morales, executive director of the Strategic Investment Group at CME Group, added, “Ripple is transforming global settlement architecture, and its momentum in payments will give way to an expanding portfolio of use cases in the financial markets. Joining this funding round is another example of how we are investing in technologies that impact our industry.”

Ripple Labs has already partnered with several financial institutions, including cross-border payment platform Earthport, Fidor Bank, Cross River Bank and CBW Bank.

Growing Ripple’s Presence In Asia

Last month, Ripple Labs open its first Asia Pacific offices in Sydney, Australia and hired payment industry veteran Dilip Rao, to lead the company’s effort in the region. According to the company, this move was intended to meet a “growing demand” for the payment network in Asia and marked the beginning of an increased interest in the region.

IDG Capital Ventures, which was an early investor in Chinese consumer internet giants Baidu, Tencent, Xiaomi and CreditEasel, will help the digital currency company grow its presence in China. China has been a hotbed of digital currency activity and is home to many large exchanges and mining companies. Li Feng, a partner at IDG Capital Ventures, will also join Ripple Labs’ board of directors.

“We are excited to build on our relationship with Ripple Labs, especially as they expand their presence in Asia,” said Feng. “Growing their influence in key regions like Asia will help activate new markets, further accelerating the use of Ripple as a real-time settlement protocol by the world’s leading financial institutions.”

IDG Capital Ventures recently co-led the funding round of Bitcoin financial services startup Circle along with Goldman Sachs. The venture firm will also help Circle enter the large Chinese markets.

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African Bitcoin Remittance Service BitPesa Expands to Tanzania
bitpesa

African Bitcoin startup BitPesa launched its remittance service in Tanzania today. The service previously was available only in Kenya, where the company is headquartered. It hopes to undercut the fees charged by incumbents’ remittance services.

BitPesa launched its international money transfer in Kenya last year with the goal of expanding the service to the rest of Africa, something the company has slowly been working toward. Besides its remittance product, the company operates an exchange in Kenya and Ghana but Tanzania is the first country the startup has expanded its international money transfer service into.

Like Kenya, Tanzania is a mobile money hotspot and an ideal country for BitPesa. The nation has a population of more than 43 million people, and, according to a 2014 study by industry group Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA), has 31.8 million registered mobile money accounts. Tanzania received $317 million in remittances, $15 million of which came from Kenya, in 2012, according to a World Bank study.

BitPesa’s service allows anyone to send money to any Tanzanian phone number and charges a flat 3 percent on all its transfers. The service also promises the money will arrive instantly.

A Competitive Market

BitPesa will be joining a number of other companies that offer domestic (from city to rural) and international remittances in the country. Tanzania already has more than six mobile money operators who offer money transfer services to anyone in the country, and operators such as M-Pesa, who have partnered with Western Union, offer international mobile remittances.

Due to a lack of studies and research about remittance fees in Tanzania, it is unclear whether BitPesa will have a cost advantage, but it is certainly likely, especially for inter-Africa remittances. A 2013 World Bank press release said that Tanzania, alongside South Africa and Ghana, were the most expensive African countries to remit money to. Fees reportedly could get as high as 20 percent.

 BitPesa’s low flat rate might turn out be an attractive option for Tanzanians in Kenya remitting money back home, which is a smaller corridor and usually has higher fees. The same might hold true for Tanzanians living in Uganda when the Bitcoin startup expands there later this year. The service will of course allow people from anywhere in the world (excluding the United States) to remit money to the small African country as well.

A more likely candidate for the service however, are businesses operating in Kenya, Tanzania and countries such as the United Kingdom, who have to send money to and from the African nation. BitPesa has already pivoted their service to better accommodate businesses’ needs after finding a large interest in the service from the group late last year.

Image via BitPesa.co.

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Bitcoin Tracker One ETN Starts Trading on Nasdaq Stockholm
xbt-provider

Two weeks ago XBT Provider AB announced the authorization of Bitcoin Tracker One, the first Bitcoin-based security available on a regulated exchange. Today, Bitcoin Tracker One started trading on Nasdaq Stockholm.

“NASDAQ OMX Stockholm decides to officially list 1 Exchange Traded Note issued by XBT Provider AB with effect from 2015-05-18,” announced XBT Provider AB on Friday. “We are proud to offer the world’s first “Bitcoin tracker” to be traded on a regulated exchange,” states the XBT Provider website. “By enabling this easy and secure way to invest in Bitcoin we hope to have eliminated the boundaries that earlier prevented individuals and companies from being able to actively invest in what we believe to be the future of money.”

“The world’s first Bitcoin-based security on a regulated exchange has been launched in Sweden,” notes the Swedish edition of the English language news site The Local. “The digital currency began trading on the Stockholm market on Monday.”

Bitcoin Tracker One is an “Exchange Traded Note” (ETN) designed to provide investors with convenient access to the returns of the underlying asset, U.S. dollar (USD) per bitcoin, less investor fees. The average dollar exchange rate of bitcoin from the exchanges Bitfinex, Bitstamp and OKCoin provides the underlying reference price. A detailed breakdown of the value of Bitcoin Tracker One is given here.

“Young guys will probably buy it. Bitcoin stands for a new digital world, free from the banking system. It’s almost somewhat political,” savings analyst Claes Hemberg of the Avanza bank told Swedish news wire TT.

The ETN could become an attractive investment option for those traditional investors who want to speculate on the dollar exchange rate of bitcoin with traditional investment vehicles, rather than going through the hassle of buying and holding bitcoin directly. In particular, traditional financial instruments such as Bitcoin Tracker One offer easy ways to short bitcoin and profit from price drops. However, all investments are risky, and this is no exception.

“You shouldn’t put more money towards bitcoin than you would bet on a horse race. You can win, but also lose everything,” Hemberg warned.

Other similar bitcoin investment vehicles are Barry Silbert’s Bitcoin Investment Trust (BIT), now trading on the OTC Markets Group’s OTCQX exchange with the symbol GBTC, and the upcoming Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust ETF (Exchange Traded Fund), which will be available to investors on NASDAQ with the ticker COIN.

XBT Provider AB (publ) is a public limited liability company formed in Sweden and incorporated under Swedish law, with statutory seat in Stockholm. The XBT Provider website states that the company is backed and guaranteed by bitcoin mining hardware manufacturer and service provider KnCGroup. The Local notes that KnCGroup, which had racked up $75 million in turnover in around eight months after its launch in June 2013, opened a new data hub in northern Sweden last year, just a stone’s throw from Facebook’s European data center.

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