Block chain technology, the public ledger of Bitcoin, is an amazing record keeper, tracking all transactions in its string of code.
What better way to create an electronic signature than with this self-tracking technology? Well, that’s what BlockSign founder Nicholas Thorne thought.
The company is launching its electronic signature platform today. Called BlockSign, the software lets users upload a document and put a legally binding signature stamp on it with the time and date. “You’ll get an email 25 minutes later with your document. A record has also been kept in the block chain. You can access that record anytime going forward,” Thorne told VentureBeat.
The software turns your signed document into a cryptographic hash, or a chain of 32 graphics.That’s your private record of signing the document you uploaded, which also stays stored in the block chain — a public ledger of transactions. The only person who can unlock your document, which is tied to your location, is you.
Plenty of services already exist to help you sign your many legal documents, like Adobe’s EchoSign and Docusign — two industry standards. Those services allow you to sign your documents securely and also offer cloud storage for signed documents. These kinds of services appeal a bit more to enterprises than to the average user, with rates of $10 a month to send five documents for signing.
There’s also HelloSign, a very sleek electronic signature platform that boasts an open API, compatibility with Google and DropBox, SSL security and two factor authentication, and general user-friendliness. And for the casual user, someone who signs three or less documents a month, it’s free.
All three services make money on their higher tiered products, like document storage and security, which range in price between $15 and $40 a month. Comparatively, BlockSign will give you your first five signatures free and then charge you $5 for 50 signatures to be used at any time.
What BlockSign argues is that the best way to keep documents secure is to keep them yourself — without a service. Also, the company questions the security of a handwritten or finger-tip drawn signature, which can be copied and tacked onto a document you never intended to sign.
With BlockSign, Hackers, or any old identity thief, would have to get access to and then figure out how to decrypt your signed documents, and even then they still wouldn’t be able to steal your signature. “We will build our product to be synonymous with trust, and that’s crucial here,” said Thorne. What he means is, you don’t have to trust his company, though he’d like that, you just have to trust the technology.
Block chain technology isn’t proprietary software. It’s open source, so anyone could potentially develop a rival to Thorne’s BlockSign platform. And many are in the process of doing just that.
Armory, a Bitcoin wallet service, currently offers lockbox storage with multi-signature functionality for accounts that need more than one signature to release cash, like a joint account. Armory could easily develop that technology further into contracts where money and signed documents are exchanged.
Another company looking to do smart contracts is Ethereum, which uses the same block chain technology to move beyond a currency ledger and into a codified and secure trading of “just about anything,” according to the company website. The company aspires to managing voting, domain names, financial exchanges, crowdfunding, company governance, contracts, and intellectual property.
Ultimately, Ethereum’s vision is similar to Thorne’s. He told me yesterday that his signature model could grow beyond signing documents to home and car sale transactions — or really any transaction where both a legal document is signed and money is exchanged. “If you buy a car, you can only sell that car if you go back to New York state, and then you have to pay a title transfer fee. The whole thing relies on a record keeping system,” said Thorne.
That record keeping system could be the block chain, which already allows for cryptocurrency transfers. Just imagine having all your digital records stored in one place on a hard drive. Selling your car could be as easy as sitting down at your computer, signing over the title, and accepting digital payment transfer in one single transaction.
That’s the future BlockSign is looking towards, but it will definitely be a race to the finish as many companies assemble their own smart contract platforms.