While censorship resistance and privacy are not the same thing, they are closely intertwined. When the government or another entity, such as an advertiser, can track everything you do, they can also sanction you for bad behavior.
Instead of working backward to try and cover up seismic cracks in Web2 with duct tape, it may be time to move full speed ahead on ensuring these same mistakes don’t happen in Web3. By being proactive, the purported internet of the future could actually protect our private information and prevent overzealous or oppressive censorship before these issues become unmanageable.
Using crypto to deliver the message
In countries fighting for human rights and civil liberties, suppressing free speech and outward communication complicates the struggle against oppressive regimes. This is where the encryption and transparency of blockchain technology can prove to be useful in protecting sensitive information. Web3-based email extensions (such as ShelterZoom’s Document GPS) and file-sharing services (such as the InterPlanetary File System) have the potential to help activists and citizens in human rights hotbeds circumvent censorship and unwarranted surveillance.
By placing documents on a ledger, the sender can control all aspects of visibility and permissions while simultaneously having access to a time-stamped log of every action taken with the file. Think of it like DocuSign or Google Docs on steroids.
In a regime with stringent practices on surveillance and censorship, it’s easy to see how these blockchain-based tools are invaluable. But these kinds of solutions also use blockchain to address crypto’s censorship blind spots. It’s a common misconception that crypto is inherently private when the opposite is actually true, as transactions are stored on an open and transparent distributed ledger. This is why they are traceable in an even more effective fashion than traditional financial transactions.
This lesson was learned the hard way by the truck convoy blockade in Canada, which received donations in Bitcoin (BTC), which were easily traced and sanctioned. In the words of Michael Gronager, CEO of blockchain data firm Chainalysis, “Crypto is far more transparent than traditional finance. […] We follow the funds.”
So, how did crypto earn a reputation as censorship-resistant? Part of the answer lies in its decentralized ledger which is extremely difficult to take over, meaning that transactions are immutable once recorded.
One network working to offer complete anonymity is Tomi, a developer of Web3-based decentralized solutions and assisted-computing hardware. Led by eight anonymous senior crypto veterans working with 72 developers, Tomi is building TomiNet to empower the free flow of information between journalists, activists and generally law-abiding people without government or corporate interference. While TomiNet has similar anonymity functions to the dark web, the network is governed by Tomi’s community through a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) to prevent unsavory or pernicious activities.
The idea behind DAO governance is simple: Keep governments and corporations out, but still offer a mechanism for striking down violence.
The need for decentralization is more than theoretical
Another notable example of gatekeeping in Big Tech can be seen in the controversial right-wing social network Parler getting kicked off cloud-based web hosting services such as Amazon Web Services. Cloud technology is hailed as a truly beneficial technology in internet infrastructure. But the issue is that there are a handful of cloud companies that provide virtually all essential infrastructure, empowering them to act as gatekeepers.
Whether you agree with Parler being banned, the event illustrates how a company is effectively blocked from operating on the internet because a cloud service wouldn’t serve them.
Decentralized web hosting could step in as a much-needed solution. Companies like Akash and Flux offer a wide range of cloud services imperative for the internet age, but by leveraging decentralization, they remove the cloud service’s ability to exert control over users.
The examples of governments and private entities with too much power stifling speech and communications are growing by the day. Web3 needs to step up to the plate, but in a more forceful and demonstrative way than it has before. Censorship resistance and privacy live in a symbiotic relationship, and neither means anything without the other. The crypto world needs to remember this if it is to fulfill the space’s tall order of promises.
Ariel Shapira is a father, entrepreneur, speaker and cyclist and serves as the founder and CEO of Social-Wisdom, a consulting agency working with Israeli startups and helping them to establish connections with international markets.
This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal or investment advice. The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph. The author was not compensated by any of the projects or companies cited in this column.