MIT’s New Blockchain Project Enigma Wants To Let You Share Your Data On Your Terms

MIT’s Enigma project would let you sell the rights to use your data in aggregate–without having to grant access to your raw information.

MIT’s New Blockchain Project Enigma Wants To Let You Share Your Data On Your Terms
[Image: via Enigma]

A new Massachusetts Institute of Technology project could soon bring much greater flexibility to cloud data sharing–potentially helping companies analyze consumer data without giving employees access to individual customers’ personal information or letting loan applicants submit data for automated underwriting without ever sharing their information with a human being.


Consumers could even be able to sell access to their own data for research purposes without having to worry about it leaking across the Internet or showing up in unexpected hands.

The Enigma project, created by MIT grad student Guy Zyskind and blockchain entrepreneur Oz Nathan, with help from MIT Prof. Alex Pentland, could enable a marketplace where users can sell the rights to use encrypted data in bulk computations and statistics without giving raw access to the underlying data itself. The group says the project will launch a beta test in the near future.

“With guaranteed privacy, autonomous control and increased security, consumers will sell access to their data,” the creators suggest in the white paper. “For example, a pharmaceutical company looking for patients for clinical trials can scan genomic databases for candidates. The marketplace would eliminate tremendous amounts of friction, lower costs for customer acquisition and offer a new income stream for consumers.”

Through a cryptographic technique called secure multiparty computation, data can be split between different servers so no one machine can extract the underlying information, but the nodes can still work together to compute authorized functions on the data.

“Data is split between different nodes, and they compute functions together without leaking information to other nodes,” the team wrote in a white paper. “Specifically, no single party ever has access to data in its entirety; instead, every party has a meaningless (i.e., seemingly random) piece of it.”

Access to the data would be controlled by a blockchain–a shared ledger similar to the one that powers bitcoin and other cryptographic currencies. Users could effectively add to the chain cryptographically signed permission slips giving other users rights to access their stored data in particular ways.


Companies might also be able to use Enigma to store corporate data or information about consumer habits, using the permissions system to let employees or partners analyze the records in bulk without the risk of individual data points being leaked.

Even banks could specify loan underwriting rules in terms of computations to be executed by automated scripts on encrypted, user-provided data, so applicants would never actually have to share their financial details with another human, the team says.

“Users can take loans, deposit cryptocurrencies or buy investment products with the autonomous control of the blockchain, without publicly revealing their financial situation,” the Enigma creators write.

[via Bitcoin Magazine]

About the author

Steven Melendez is an independent journalist living in New Orleans.