Alibaba seeks blockchain patent for ‘administrative intervention’
Alibaba has applied to patent a blockchain system that allows a third party administrator to execute in “special transactions”, such as halting a smart contract or freezing an account linked to an illegal activity.
According to documents made public on Thursday by the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO), the Chinese e-commerce giant submitted the application through Alibaba Group Holding Limited, a holding company based in Grand Cayman, in March.
The patent document outlines a blockchain-powered transaction method that enables authorised parties to freeze or halt user accounts associated with illegal transactions, or intervene in a blockchain network.
The authors note that blockchain technology offers several advantageous features like openness, unchangeability, and decentralisation, but has yet to account for certain practical considerations associated with implementing it in a regulated, real-world environment.
Limited scope of supervision
Alibaba’s researchers specifically mention concerns that standard smart contracts do not provide legal authorities with a general ability to freeze user accounts associated with illegal transactions or otherwise facilitate administrative intervention in a blockchain network.
The patent proposes developing a system for effective administrative supervision of all accounts in a blockchain network. However the scope of supervision will be limited, which means it will not restrict normal transactions in the blockchain network.
“The issuing account recorded in the various embodiments may be an account owned by a government agency or a trustful institution,” the patent states.
“Upon receiving an operation instruction sent from a designated account, a node in a blockchain network can invoke a corresponding smart contract when determining that the operation instruction is issued legally, to execute corresponding operations on an account corresponding to the to-be-operated account information, which achieves a goal of supervision on accounts in the blockchain and solves the problem of processing special transactions like administrative intervention in a blockchain.”
The authors admit that their proposed system introduces an element of risk into the blockchain network since administrator accounts could be prime targets for hackers. They address this risk by suggesting decentralising supervisory power among a plurality of designated accounts.
“In this way, the supervision power of the accounts in the blockchain can be decentralised, such that the supervision power against the blockchain is not centralised in one designated account and the effectiveness and credibility of supervision can be ensured,” they wrote. “At the same time, it prevents the loss of all supervision power over the blockchain when one designated account is compromised.”