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Why Paper Isn’t Proof: Data Is Now King



True data offers many benefits over information on a piece of paper when it comes to everything from versioning to verification and preservation. Yet despite the fact that paper was invented in 100 B.C. and despite the fact that we come just a little ways technologically since then, we still rely upon paper. Back in 100 B.C. we also thought that any illness was the result of angry gods and we would sacrifice a goat or a chicken to the gods to cure our family members. Fortunately for the goats we determined there was a better way. But we held on to the paper. Why?

The reason is mystifyingly simple. It is because we think if we write it down on paper it is hard to change, therefore immutable. And data, like that in a spreadsheet, is very easy to change. That is in fact true. But if you have ever pulled up your computer and searched for the latest Word, Excel or Powerpoint document only to open an older version than the one you want, look at it and say, “Dang that one has the wrong data in it,” you understand why.

It’s easy to think that if we just stick with good old-fashioned paper—or in the case of scans or PDFs, digital renderings of that sacred paper—we’ll have the printable proof we need. Proof we need for court, compliance, agreement or for that meeting. So paper gets associated with “hard to change” and data get associated with “easy to change, or unreliable.”

This is a falsehood. We know that in many instances paper is much easier to forge, copy or alter. So it’s important to understand the benefits of data over paper and digital documents when the data is protected and applied to the right solution.


Rock, Paper, Data?

Since you can hold it in your hand, paper may feel more tangible as a source of proof than data and thus seem more reliable when verifying originality and authenticity of versioning and information. But it’s risky to become overly trusting of paper as the be-all and end-all authority for verification purposes since it can be photoshopped or otherwise altered. This is also true for digital versions of documents (PDF, scans), which are often erroneously considered the equivalent of the data of that document.

If you think about it, without even realizing it, the world has already started its shift toward equating digital currency and digital paper with the physical form of paper. Otherwise, we wouldn’t put our money in banks, since the reality is that not every person could go to the bank at once and cash out their bank account into physical dollars—there simply isn’t enough physical currency available. Despite this reality, we trust that our money is there based on what our digital bank balance on our smartphone shows us even if, under certain circumstances, it might not be.

Shifts in thinking like this are why digital versions of what could be printed are generally viewed as physical documents even if they are never printed—and even though digital documents, just like paper, are far from being protected against alteration. Even the digital document that is often considered the most “uneditable” form of digital documentation—the PDF—is still no more than an accumulation of 1’s and 0’s, which can easily be modified by a savvy hacker. Scanned documents are another digital document that’s often given greater authority than it should have, since these too can be altered with a little ingenuity. What’s more, these digital documents are also prone to versioning problems, whether you send a link to the document or the document itself. If you consider digital documents and data the same thing, then how do you know which one is the correct version?


The New and Rightful King

Understanding that data has moved into the position to become king over paper and digital files requires developing a better understanding of what true data really is, and recognizing the advantages of using pure data as the verification medium. Many people have yet to make the leap from seeing paper or digitized paper as the best proof of truth and originality. Yet there is a sea change underway now, since new blockchain-based tools are proving without a doubt why data, when used with the right framework as a solution, has the potential to be recognized as the king it really should be.

Specifically, a new technology from Factom called SmartProvenance™ introduces a unique approach to data and evidence storage. Having a trusted third-party store the proof of the digital documents or data solves compliance problems for the mortgage industry in a way that simply relying on paper or the digital documents themselves never did. What’s more, with immutable data backing a digital document, version control is simplified. It mirrors the best parts of the deal room, where a group of reviewers had only a single set of printed papers in front of them. In that scenario, there was no chance that one person was reviewing outdated information that someone else had changed the day before.

Likewise, Factom Harmony with SmartProvenance™ technology organize documents and data into unique chains. Rather than store private documents or data in the blockchain, Factom only publishes one-way hashes of the data as cryptographic proofs. Factom also stores metadata that allows for fast cataloguing and retrieving of digital asset information. Since it’s much harder to prove what hasn’t happened than what has happened, entries in the Factom system are time-stamped and sequential. That means the system can prove what’s there and what’s missing—it’s like a filing cabinet of paper except that it can never be physically stolen or digitally compromised.


Having the Proof

The mortgage industry has grown accustomed to having to recreate the truth in the case of a dispute over accuracy or authenticity of documentation. But whether you’re dealing with audits, foreclosures, lawsuits, or regulatory reviews, it’s always better to have the proof already than to be forced to try to recreate the truth. This is where Smart Provenance comes in. This technology allows the mortgage industry to reclaim the power of data.

The power of blockchain is what actually makes data the mortgage industry’s strongest asset. With SmartProvenance technology, even if information gets altered or changed, you can still prove your original point. So it’s time to stop assuming the authority of tools based on a different era. We shouldn’t entrust the most important details of the mortgage industry around an era that is archaic. We need to collectively move beyond the mentality that views physical documents, or even their counterpart digital documents, as the indisputable law or truth.

With this new blockchain-based approach, data becomes a more reliable source than any physical paper trail, even if the latter involves notarized paper or digital documents. Are you ready to let data become your ultimate source of truth instead of paper? It’s definitely time. Find out more at

Find out more at www.factom.com or email info@factom.com.

About Author: Jason Nadeau

Jason Nadeau is EVP with Factom, Inc., where he leads mortgage strategy, revenue growth, and business development strategy.

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