Softbank, Baidu Lead $3 Million Funding for Ex-Googler’s Crypto Startup

A team led by a former Google staffer is taking aim at the online advertising giant.

Called Atlas Protocol, the startup believes that the data accumulating on blockchains today can be used to better market to internet users tomorrow, an idea that has already received validation from some of the biggest names in Asian business.

Revealed exclusively to CoinDesk, Softbank China Venture Capital (SBCVC) has completed a $3 million equity seed round in Atlas. SBCVC is a venture arm of the Japan-based telecom and e-commerce giant. Other participants include BV (the venture charm of Chinese internet conglomerate, Baidu), Danhua Capital and Fenbushi Capital.

Google, of course, earns the lion’s share of its money by gathering data about user behavior and using it to advertise to them all over the web, while users have very little control over how much data the company collects about them. As such, Atlas is positioning itself to come out ahead of Google if more of the web begins directly interacting with public blockchains.

The Atlas team knows the Google playbook well. It was incubated by the xGoogler Blockchain Alliance, an organization made up of former Google employees now deeply involved in building out the blockchain ecosystem.

Project co-founder Durian Liu is himself a former staffer at Google, working on improving different applications at the search giant with machine learning. Liu’s co-founder Cheng Li was also part of Google NYC, working on applications like speech recognition.

With the attention paid to Facebook’s Cambridge Analyitica scandal and credit rating agency Equifax’s data breach before it, users might be understandably wary about personal data being stored immutably on a blockchain.

Atlas Protocol has sought to allay those concerns by promising that users will control their data and only share the information that they opt-in to share. In a Medium post addressing how blockchain technology could help marketing teams abide by Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the firm promises:

“Being implemented on the blockchain, Atlas Protocol will be fully transparent for users, in contrast to the ‘data blackhole’ setup that characterizes the current industry landscape dominated by digital giants.”

Atlas’s roadmap says it is aiming for a beta release this summer.

Competitive terrain

The basic model for Atlas Protocol is to allow users to collect data about transactions and interactions with the blockchain, and then allow marketers to incentivize sharing that information by using a token that can permit value exchange between marketers, users, publishers and others in the online ecosystem.

Other companies are also working to tie ads to the blockchain, for the benefit of users.

MetaX has adChain, a token curated registry of high quality publishing opportunities, while the team at Brave has the Basic Attention Token, which will eventually pay for ads that don’t know who you are. It’s an important enough topic that the online advertising industry’s trade group, IAB, has created a working group on the topic.

Also notable is that Atlas was incubated by Nebulas, a smaller blockchain protocol that wants to make crypto data more discoverable and useable.

Atlas completed a proof-of-concept as part of the Nebulas incentive program this summer after Nebulas encouraged developers to build decentralized apps or dapps on its blockchain. The apps that saw the most usage got the best rewards. To make sure they had users, Liu explained that Atlas Protocol’s “SmartDrop system” was used to reward the most active Nebulas users during the incentive program with free tokens as well.

Over 100,000 users received NAS tokens this way, according to a statement.

SoftBank yacht image via Shutterstock.

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