Feb 15, 2024 - Business

Witness raises $3.5M to renew the web's trustworthiness

Illustration of a pattern of check marks in connected cubes.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Witness, a startup that extends blockchain verifiability to everyone, has secured a $3.5 million seed round led by Haun Ventures, with participation by Coinbase Ventures and various angel investors.

Why it matters: "We're starting to see this cusp where it's: Can we trust what we see on the internet anymore? Lately, the answer has been no," Witness co-founder Joe Coll tells Axios.

Details: Witness has built infrastructure to make it easy for developers of any kind of application — including a traditional website — to take advantage of blockchains' power to verify crucial information. And to do it at no or little cost.

  • In particular, the team points to time. The ability to prove that some digital artifact was created or some action online was taken at a specific moment.

Quick take: In the era of deepfakes, it would be nice to be able to prove that, say, this photo of this disaster really was taken at the time it purports to have been snapped.

How it works: Witness provides an infrastructure for developers to dump proofs of various actions, which the company ultimately puts on-chain.

  • Anyone who wants to check something's authenticity could verify it from the proof.

Between the lines: Any on-chain transaction costs a little to log on-chain, and logging thousands of proofs for individual websites would be prohibitively costly. So Witness collectivizes that expense.

  • It consolidates the many individual proofs into a giant one, which is the one it logs on-chain.

Be smart: That way, it's negligible to log any one proof, so it's easy to make it free for users.

  • Coll says that, theoretically, Witness could scale to enormous levels, such as allowing every action taken on a social media site to get a verifiable timestamp.

The big picture: This is likely one of those utilities that will lead to surprising use cases. Coinbase, on its own, is already providing users verification of their identity through KYC/AML (know your customer/anti-money laundering) checks.

Of note: Witness aims to build a broad application in the media industry. Now Media, a web3 digital platform, has already begun using blockchains to authenticate the provenance of news and its artifacts.

What we're watching: "This attestation space is entirely underexplored," Coll said. "We think by unlocking this provable when certain actions happened, it actually allows applications online to interact in a more interesting way."

  • A usable first version will be available to developers Thursday.
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