FSU student launches Immuto to combat fake news through blockchain

By March 4, 2019Bitcoin Business
Click here to view original web page at www.fsunews.com

When most people think of blockchain, they associate the technology with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Blockchain, after all, is ideal for keeping cryptocurrency transactional records. However, this technology has been around for a decade now and its potential applications in the industries of finance, healthcare and online media have been largely ignored. Immuto is changing that.

Founded by Florida State University student Derek Strauss with Tufts University student Sebastian Coates, Immuto is pioneering a new era of blockchain adoption. Typically, blockchain essentially creates a large database of records which a network of computers verifies and preserves the integrity of. Revolutionarily, Immuto utilizes benefits of blockchain like timestamps and traceability to verify the legitimacy of online journalism, combating fake news in the process.

The idea for Immuto was conceived in Summer 2018, during which time Strauss and Coates interned together at Vertex Pharmaceuticals and developed a Proof of Concept blockchain application.

“It was during our internship we discovered the hurdles of creating a blockchain application from scratch and how difficult it would be to integrate into most existing systems for companies,” Strauss said. “Following our internship we had the idea to make an application that gives users all of the benefits of blockchain — untamperable data, timestamps, traceability to source of entry, decentralization — while completely abstracting the complexity of the technology from the end user through an API and Web Portal so much so that they don’t even need to know it utilizes blockchain.”

Strauss and Coates came up with Immuto’s original concept in August and had a prototype by December. Then, at the beginning of the spring semester, Immuto received a microgrant from FSU’s Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship, enabling them to begin seriously working on the project. On February 28, Coates, on behalf of Immuto, became a finalist in the University of Oxford All-Innovate Idea Competition, making the top ten out of over one hundred applicants.

Strauss and Coates are currently in the process of integrating Immuto’s services with student publications, leveraging university connections and publicity.

“We’ve chosen to start with news and media because we think that it’s a very prevalent issue with the abundance of fake news, and it will allow users to verify that what they’re reading is legitimate and will allow for transparency for publishers,” Strauss said. “It’s important to note Immuto doesn’t store any data from publishers and readers, and we’re still able to verify the legitimacy of content.”

Strauss explained Immuto’s content verification process. “Through our web portal, users can upload documents or URLs if they want to use online publications, and we timestamp and associate that piece of data with the user who uploaded it,” Strauss said. “When a user uploads something, a unique key is created, and it represents a piece of data. We just store a copy of the unique key … and the user also saves their key and the data they verified. Because the keys are associated with the document, we can prove if they match. If the document is different, the key won’t match. So, while we don’t verify the contents of a document, we verify that the data existed at a certain place and time.”

For student publications like the FSView, a “Verify with Immuto” button will connect with Immuto’s website and verify online articles. Other companies will be able to run Immuto in the background through an API. Additionally, Strauss said, “We want to give publications a way to thoroughly archive articles. This will allow someone to come back years from now to see if an article was actually published by the author or publication stating those claims.”

After piloting the application with student publications, Strauss aims to expand Immuto’s integration to regional and national publications and, eventually, social media platforms.

“Ultimately, we want to give journalists their credit from their articles, allow users to trust the news is legitimate, create transparency with publications and truly enhance journalistic integrity,” Strauss said.

In Immuto’s future, Strauss envisions changing the landscapes of both blockchain use and online media.

“For the first time in history, blockchain allows people to guarantee that their data hasn’t been tampered with. [Blockchain technology] has been around for ten years, but no true adoption of the technology has occurred — we’re not using it in our everyday life — because it’s very complex, and because of this, current blockchain iterations are difficult to integrate into existing systems,” he said. “We’re hoping to be a driving force behind blockchain adoption and a revolution for combating fake news.”

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