back to article California toys with digital vehicle titles on private DMV blockchain

The California Department of Motor Vehicles doesn't want anyone to think it's a technological dinosaur - that's why it's announcing its own cutting-edge NFT project to digitize vehicle titles.  According to CA DMV chief digital officer Ajay Gupta, the move to put titles on a private Tezos blockchain will increase efficiency …

  1. redpawn

    Is blockchain the answer?

    Blockchain is always the answer. Now fund me!

    1. tmTM

      Blockchain is always the answer

      but no-one is ever sure of the question

      1. MrDamage Silver badge

        Re: Blockchain is always the answer

        "What's the easiest way to bilk people without knowing what I'm talking about?"

        1. J. Cook Silver badge

          Re: Blockchain is always the answer


  2. Gene Cash Silver badge

    California... please fall into the ocean.

    It's the only decent thing to do.

    1. martinusher Silver badge
  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    an "18th-century paper-based technology to solve 21st-century transaction fraud."

    No seems more like common or garden 18th C fraud to me. Or more likely, 5 BC fraud.

    One of the more pleasurable aspects of crypto, has been learning all the late 19th C terminology for frauds, which are enjoying a new golden age as naive people abandoned all the strategies our grandfathers used.

    1. J. Cook Silver badge

      Hey now- leave Ea-Nasir and their copper out of this! (huh?)

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Nor is it "18th-century", and the nitwit at Oxhead Alpha who wrote that likely can be ignored with no consequences in all other matters. Anyone with even casual knowledge of the evolution of paper record-keeping would be aware of the tremendous advances in it during the 19th century. I really doubt the California DMV are keeping all the title information in pigeonholes.

      In fact, I'd be pretty surprised if their records aren't digitized already.

      Of course, none of this would justify the use of a blockchain or NFTs anyway. I can't think of a single DMV function that's not better served by a normal relational database, or even a hierarchical or network one. But this is precisely the sort of foolishness you're not surprised to see coming from a "Chief Digital Officer".

  4. Jim Mitchell
    IT Angle

    If they want to prevent "title washing" by moving a lemon/flood/salvage/etc vehicle out of state and then back, just keep a list of VINs that have ever been titled in California. Heck, I would hope they already have this.

  5. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "blockchain will increase efficiency and transparency"

    Ooh, so they've finally found a solution to make blockchain scale (it doesn't) ?

    I am thrilled that there are some institutions that are trying to adopt blockchain and finally make this thing useful.

    I only find it curious that there are hardly any private companies that are doing this, ie risking actual capital on the idea.

    Apart, of course, from all the funny money schemes which almost invariably end up on the bonfire of mismanagement and incompetent IT decisions and staff - not to mention intentional scamming from the get-go.

    No, lets let government use our tax money to pursue this bullshit bingo boondoggle. At least, when it won't work, it can just be quietly swept under the rug without much fuss because hey, it's only your tax money at work, right ?

    1. Rikki Tikki Bronze badge

      Re: "blockchain will increase efficiency and transparency"

      "I only find it curious that there are hardly any private companies that are doing this, ie risking actual capital on the idea."

      We already did down here:

      Hopefully, the California DMV won't waste as much time and money on this project as as the ASX did.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It doesn't need to scale

      You could run the DMV database off a midrange cell phone, and probably a smartwatch, if you could bodge a fiber connection and a redundant PSU onto one.

      The amount of actual data for the entire vehicle history of north America can easily fit on an SD card.

      The real questions stand, but I'd move farther down the list than most of you seem to be looking if you want anything resembling answers.

      Q1) Why this consulting group? AKA who do they know, and who has been receiving the "grease" this firm used to get the slow moving wheels of the DMV going.

      A: Naked corruption and incompetence at the DMV and in Sacramento in general.

      Q2) Why this blockchain in particular?

      A2.1: Vendor lock in, as there is exactly ONE outfit that is working with the DMV that understands it, and even if parts get carved out to other people pet contractors, the expensive core is unmaintainable by anyone other than the original vendor. Yes this is obviously a terrible idea regardless of if the technology is suitable or not.

      A2.2: The firm has large enough stake/position in Tezos that they expect to see additional benefits by using the DMV traffic to shore up the credibility of Tezos/XTZ, which is like #50 on coin market cap.

      A2.3: The Tezos chain claims upgradeability features that are it's main contribution to the cryptocurrency universe, but they don't apply to a world where the DMV is operating a private blockchain. If those features are left in place the node operators could hijack the DMVs control of the vehicle record, protocol and software.

      Q3) Have these swindlers actually been trying to push this through since a time so far back that "because blockchain" was a pitch you could make and not be laughed out of the room?

      A: don't have a firm answer on that one, but I have my suspicions.

      The only real case this would benefit would be private party sales being able to complete offline via a smart contract, which isn't nothing, but you can get near enough without any blockchain like technology.

    3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: "blockchain will increase efficiency and transparency"

      What, have we already forgotten the failed IBM-Maersk TradeLens project?

      There are plenty of good uses for Merkle trees in general. I've yet to see a good one for blockchain, which is an especially dumb Merkle tree wrapped with a bunch of similarly dumb protocols. Blockchain projects are a bit like saying "let's find a good use for bubble sort!".

  6. HKmk23

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha

    Local government will never learn no matter if it is the USA or the UK, its all "Wow, that is a good idea and it will make people think we are clever"........ as mentioned by others its not their money... it's ours unfortunately!

  7. Graham Cobb Silver badge

    Blockchain only has one purpose

    So why can't people realise this? Of course, there are always shysters out there but can't we get the world to understand that blockchain is only the right answer to one simple problem...

    Blockchain is a distributed ledger i.e. a record of transactions, that multiple parties who don't trust each other can update.

    If the participants trust each other, or if there is a single entity that all the participants trust (e.g. a government or other legally mandated entity, backed up by courts) then a blockchain is not useful. In those cases, the correct answer is always a simple database recording all the transactions (and their history, if that is a requirement) operated by the trusted entity. That will always be cheaper and more efficient than any blockchain.

    What blockchain allows, is that anyone who suspects fraud or cheating can download all the transactions and verify for themselves that (i) they can see all the transactions, and (ii) these transactions lead to the claimed current state. If you trust the other participants you just keep your own records - they will always agree. If you don't trust the other participants, but you do trust someone else, you get them to keep the record. Blockchain is always more expensive than either of those.

    1. cracked and broken

      Re: Blockchain only has one purpose

      Thanks for pointing out the value and usefulness of blockchain so succinctly. You have my one meagre upvote although I would like to offer more.

      It's worth remembering that the creators of bitcoin wanted a currency which was not controlled by central banks or governments who can create money out of thin air (quantitative easing). This has the potential to devalue the money in your pocket and doesn't apply to real assets like cars because someone actually has to do some work to make a car.

      Trusting the banks to maintain an accurate ledger of the ownership of the money wasn't the main problem. Similarly I don't have a problem with trusting the government to control the ledger of ownership for cars. If there is a different problem then blockchain isn't the solution.

      1. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: Blockchain only has one purpose

        The flaw in blockchain as currency is that it changes hands too often. This churning is time consuming and wasteful (expensive) so people then come up with ways to simplify transactions, often by imitating a bank. This opens the door to wide scale fraud -- the possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

        All blockchain implies for a vehicle database is that each database record has a check field which is easy to verify but impossible (i.e. very expensive) to spoof. The database is journalling -- all records are kept as distinct records rather than updates and a link to a previous record is held in the next record. Nothing particularly new here. I doubt that Sacramento would encourage the public to maintain copies and manage updates.

        The DMV is just like the UK's DVLC. Anyone with any experience of Swansea will know that once something goes wrong then its basically not fixable unless you happen to know someone. Swansea 'lost' my UK license years ago (fortunately I have a CA one) because there's no way to contact or otherwise interact with that organization. Sacramento is the same but at least has field offices; our local one has pleasant staff, is easy to access but it won't do you a whole lot of good a lot of the time because 'the system' just makes them all into jobsworths.

        (Incidentally, anyone here remember logbooks and the practice of getting them stamped at the Post Office when it was time to renew the tax disc? Now that's a distributed database!)

    2. iron Silver badge

      Re: Blockchain only has one purpose

      > download all the transactions and verify for themselves

      Assuming you have the time, bandwidth and storage - some of these blockchains are huge! (435 GB for Bitcoin in Nov '22)

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So they've invented a new way to steal cars.

    It should probably be illegal for public servants to manufacture attack surfaces

    that will inevitably fail open, even if there's a buck to be made in doing so.

    1. Black Label1
      Black Helicopters

      "It should probably be illegal for public servants to manufacture attack surfaces"

      Are you implying DARPA / CIA / NSA / GCHQ / MI6 should be extinct?

    2. Dimmer Bronze badge

      steal cars

      Good point.

      If you don't pay a tax, they transfer your title to auction, and it is gone. One click.

      How is that going to work with banks? When you get a loan and use it a collateral, how will you retain your equity?

    3. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

      a new way to steal cars

      Coming soon to a theatre near you : _Fast and Furious 2025_

      An evil cartel has infiltrated the California DMV (okay that part is plausible). They are stealing cars from senior citizens and then telling them they must have been mistaken about ever having owned them in the first place. "The computer is never wrong." When this happens to the little old lady next door, heart-of-gold Dom summons the crew to steal back all the Subarus, somehow convince the senior citizens they are indeed the rightful owners (requires maximum ingenuity and sleight of hand), and finally drive the cartel out of the DMV. "There's only room in this town for one gang of car thieves."

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The text says

    “The use of blockchain will allow for a vehicle title to be a secure digital asset (a non-fungible token) that can be held in a DMV digital wallet. This digital asset eliminates the need for a paper title to be presented and provides for indisputable ownership of the asset."

    So paraphrasing

    The use of <some persistent technology> will allow for <some form of identifier>to be a <uniquely attribited> that can be held in a <safe place>. This <unique id> eliminates the need for a paper title to be presented and provides for indisputable ownership of the asset. <just like the piece of papier did>"

    I don’t see how blockchain satisfies or embellishes any of those requirements - especially given that the said department is not a distributed non-trusted network of co-operating entities.

    1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Indeed, "blockchain" is entirely unnecessary when it's a private system with only one user.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What they mean is that your ownership is proven by something you can't dry out on the heater when it gets wet.

      1. PJD

        Except it already is. When I went to sell a vehicle in CA recently and couldn't find the title document for it to save my life, I just went to CA DMV's website and filled in the handy 'get a replacement copy of your title' form and they mailed me a new one. There is even an option in the form to also transfer the title to someone else at the same time, so people in my situation could skip a step and have the title transferred to the new owner and have the paper copy of title sent to the new owner.

        So in short, the canonical version of 'who owns this vehicle' is tied to a database entry in a DMV database, not to the piece of paper already. Not sure what benefit moving that from a database to a blockchain will do, but that's a different question.

  10. DS999 Silver badge

    Tracking lemons

    I guess they never heard of a VIN number? When a lemon is transferred out of state, they can't possibly leave an entry in their title database for it in case it returns? Blockchain has to be the solution for that?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Existing Computerized System (Subcontracted?) Already Error-filled

    When I took my Nissan Sentra sedan in for inspection, our MOT had it in their database as a Datsun 280Z sports car. The head inspector said, "No problem, we'll fix that right up, it happens all the time." and went clickety-click on their computer to do so. I have never owned a Datsun, or even a sports car. If US motor vehicle departments are as computer-problem-prone, then I think adding blockchain, and the accompanying proclamations of, "The system is perfect -- it uses blockchain!" and "The computer is never wrong" will make a royal mess of things, with citizens victimized.

    1. Steve Aubrey

      Re: Existing Computerized System (Subcontracted?) Already Error-filled

      Oh, AC, I think you had the wrong part changed. You should have had the inspector transform the sedan into a Z-car. Worst case, you could have sold it (after a little speed run somewhere) and had some petrol money for the sedan you subsequently purchased.

    2. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

      Re: Existing Computerized System (Subcontracted?) Already Error-filled


      I hope it won't be so easy for just anybody to "fix" the proposed title blockchain.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Existing Computerized System (Subcontracted?) Already Error-filled

        Well there's a boondoggle, eh?

        - owner discovers DMV records are wrong about the car

        - DMV says "but, the computer!"

        - owner says "fine, let's just have a look, it's right outside in parking lot"

        I've no idea what happens next, given some bureaucracies' willingness, eagerness even, to ignore reality in favor of their own system, database, records, The Computer, etc.

    3. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: Existing Computerized System (Subcontracted?) Already Error-filled

      My run in with the DMV happened about 10 years ago. I got a threatening letter from the DMV claiming the check I'd used to pay the registration on my old Jeep some six months before had bounced and IU had to send them money and stuff "OR ELSE". Since I'm on quite good terms with my bank I doubted that they'd have bounced a check for $72 without telling me and this was indeed the case. They helpfully dug around in their records and came up with the facsimile of the cancelled check. Should be no problem -- I sent all this stuff off to the DMV.....

      ...and got back another threatening letter. This saga continued for ages (every time you pinned down someone in Sacramento they'd be replaced by another an the whole process restarted). Eventually I rather suspect my bank paid them out of some slush fund to shut them up. Because, in one F2F conversation in a local bank branch -- coincidentally one near the DMV -- it turned out that mistakes in titles were quite common and impossible to fix unless you 'knew' someone. Vehicles with liens on them due to loans have this recorded on the title paperwork -- the "pink slip" -- and getting this title cleared requires everything on all paperwork to match exactly. If it doesn't ..... well, without knowing someone that can do you a favor you're screwed. (Leading to me suspecting that the sole reason for this particular bank branch was its proximity to a DMV field office).

      I like paper titles. Think of them as a distributed backup for the database. If the computer screws up I've got the paper. If the paper gets lost then there's the computer record. Follows all the backup rules, being offsite, different technologies and so on.

  12. Winkypop Silver badge


    The solution still desperately in need of a problem.

  13. ITS Retired

    We have human records painted on cave walls, carved on rocks, clay tablets, various kinds and types of paper, going back many 10's of thousands of years. Writings from 2 to 3 thousands of years ago, compared to what we see today, but are told were written thousands of years ago, that don't agree with the original records. It is fairly easy to figure out sumtom ain't right here. Reliance on magnetic polarization, not so much, without access to the proper computers, hardware and software decades after they have been replaced.

    Yet we have already lost valuable information because there are no computers left in existence that can read the data bases. Computers built, used and discarded well within our lifetimes. (Or at least mine)

    Upgrade the computers, and/or lose the electricity and poof, our ancestors can never recover that information decades later. There can be said good things about file cabinets for long term storage for critical information.

    Too heavy a reliance on computers will bring about the downfall of civilization, when things go pear shaped, as all civilizations have encountered so far.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      My ancestors have trouble recovering any information, even from paper records.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And if you act now,

    We'll give you 100,000 shares of company stock before you announce!

    Gupta - Sign me up! I can be back in India and as wealthy as any Bania before the shit hits the fan in California, and I already have the right name!

  15. prh99

    Oh goody, yet another attempt to find a use for block chain that adds nothing over conventional methods. The state could move digital car titles without blockchain. The fact NFTs were mentioned makes me think this another attempt legitimize NFTs.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Isn’t it a few years too late to try to be cool with “blockchain blablabla”?

    No one is ever going to think that the DMV is cool.

  17. trindflo Bronze badge
    Thumb Down

    Who had a brother-in-law that needed a job?

    What a bunch of made-up nonsense.

  18. Claptrap314 Silver badge

    Blockchain & DMV, like FIFA & Quatar

    Perhaps not as funny, but the conclusion is the same, "At this point, one HAS to hope that bribery was involved--because that's the ONLY way any of this makes sense."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Blockchain & DMV, like FIFA & Quatar

      Yeah, it's just depressing when corruption is unpaid.

      My country handed over it's railways to robbers. (Then we paid other robbers to try and fix them up and replace all the stolen trains and stuff. Then we paid yet another bunch of robbers to buy them back again)

      If it had been India, you know someone would have gotten a decent wedge to make it happen - not just stiffed the country out of the goodness of their little black hearts.

  19. Neoc

    "One of the use cases cited by the DMV and Oxhead Alpha are interstate title transfers. Smith noted that faulty cars labeled "lemons" in California have notes placed on their titles, but can be taken out of state, transferred, and then brought back to California to lose that designation. "

    ??? OK, I don't know how it works in Cali (or the USA in general), but down here in QLD when you register a car you need to specify the VIN and the Engine Number. You then get the registration plates to attach to the car and they stay on the car until the registration expires. I am led to believe that in the USA you change the plate every time you pay your rego, which sounds like a waste to me, but hey what do I know?

    Anyway - the registration details (and whether you've paid) is held in the system along with make/model/colour/VIN/EIN - and it's up to you to inform Transport (the local DMV) if these info change.

    Sell the car? The owner details change - not the rest of the data - and the licence plate stays with the car.

    My point (kinda lost track of it there) is that even is a car was sold inter-state, sold again, and then brought back, the system would have a record of the old VIN/EIN and would identify the car.

    No block-chain required. Actually, I haven't been convinced of any situation where a block-chain would be the preferred solution (or in fact, an acceptable solution).

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