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Overstock.com puts a lot of stock in blockchain

More than four years ago, Overstock.com became the first major retailer to accept bitcoin as a form of payment for its goods. Today, it accepts more than 40 versions of the digital currency for online purchases and it holds onto about half of all bitcoins it receives.

While bitcoin may have first caught the online retailer’s eye, it’s the technology behind the digital tokens – blockchain – that has really captured Overstock.com’s investment wallet.

About the same time Overstock.com was embracing bitcoin for payments, it put a venture capital stake in blockchain distributed ledger technology (DLT) through Medici Ventures, its Salt Lake City-based subsidiary created for just that purpose.

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Medici Ventures focuses its investments on six key emerging areas of blockchain technology adoption: capital markets; money and banking; identity management; property; voting; and underlying technologies supporting blockchain.

The company has to date invested in a dozen start-ups using blockchain as the basis for their products.

“As cool as we thought bitcoin was it was the underlying technology for it that could be even more transformative,” said Jonathan Johnson, president of Medici Ventures. “Simply put, Overstock.com believes blockchain is the future foundation for an economy built on trust but void of the traditional institutions that have backed those relationships.”

Blockchain for voting

For example, this year, Medici Ventures lead a $2.2 million funding round for Voatz, a Salt Lake City-based start-up that’s developing a blockchain-based system that enables voting via smartphone or tablet.

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Voters can create a Voatz account by entering their phone number or email. They then must submit a picture of themselves and a photo ID and provide either a finger print or a retinal scan as a biometric identity to confirm their eligibility to vote. The system ensures voter anonymity and privacy by storing personally identifiable information off-chain and using a hash table to create an encrypted online identity. The voter is in control of the encryption key.

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