Mastercard open sources blockchain API to help make payments more secure and transparent

Businesses can now tap Mastercard's blockchain technology for B2B payments and trade finance transactions.

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On Friday, Mastercard opened its blockchain technology via its API to developers, allowing select consumers, businesses, and banks to begin making transactions using the ledger technology.

For those unfamiliar, blockchain is the technology that allows Bitcoin and other digital currencies to be open, anonymous, and secure. It is a master ledger or database that contains metadata about when and how each transaction occurred, which is open to members of a given network and is cryptographically secured to prevent tampering.

Mastercard's blockchain solution can power secure, seamless non-card payment transactions, including business-to-business (B2B) payments and trade finance transactions, according to a press release. The company will initially open its blockchain technology to the B2B space, to address issues of speed, transparency, and costs in cross-border payments, according to a press release.

Combined with Mastercard's existing payment capabilities--including virtual cards, Mastercard Send, and Vocalink--the company will support all types of cross-border B2B payments, including those that are account-based, blockchain-based, or card-based, the release noted.

SEE: Blockchain: The smart person's guide

Mastercard's blockchain includes new privacy, flexibility, and scalability offerings, including combining with the company's other APIs to create a range of new applications. Mastercard's blockchain is also integrated into the company's payment network, which includes 22,000 financial institutions.

"By combining Mastercard blockchain technology with our settlement network and associated network rules, we have created a solution that is safe, secure, auditable and easy to scale," said Ken Moore, executive vice president of Mastercard Labs, in the release. "When it comes to payments, we want to provide choice and flexibility to our partners where they are able to seamlessly use both our existing and new payment rails based on the needs and requirements of their customers."

Potential blockchain use cases include proof of provenance, to easily track high-value products such as pharmaceuticals, art, and luxury goods as they are created, transferred, purchased, and re-sold. For example, users can use a Mastercard credit card at a standard ATM to record that an asset arrived at a location on the blockchain--helping to avoid contributing to the $1.4 trillion cost of fraudulent goods globally, Mastercard noted on its website.

Vehicle service history is also easier to track using the blockchain, as car owners and authorized dealers can share information with each other privately to facilitate payments. For example, if an owner gets a car serviced, the garage can write details about the service to the blockchain, and only authorized parties can see those details.

Further, the Person-to-Person (P2P) global market is now worth $16 trillion. With Mastercard blockchain, when two people agree to transfer funds, they can write a settlement request to the blockchain. Then, the Mastercard Settlement network will read the blockchain and transfer the funds between the two banks, writing a confirmation of transfer to the blockchain as well.

Other top uses for blockchain include stocks, shipping, and law, according to TechRepublic's Tom Merritt. Mastercard faces competition in this space from companies such as IBM, which recently announced a blockchain banking solution that allows financial institutions to more quickly and cost effectively process payments across international borders.

Mastercard also recently joined the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, the world's largest open source blockchain initiative that aims to connect Fortune 500 companies, startups, academics, and tech vendors with blockchain subject matter experts.

Image: iStockphoto/monsitj

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

1. Mastercard's blockchain technology API is now available to select banks and merchants to begin making transactions using the ledger technology.

2. The company will initially open its blockchain technology to the B2B space, to address issues of speed, transparency, and costs in cross-border payments.

3. Potential blockchain use cases include proof of provenance, vehicle service history, and person-to-person payments.

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