On May 2nd, social media giant Facebook banned controversial figures such as Alex Jones (Infowars) and Louis Farrakhan (Nation of Islam).
Americans enjoy First Amendment rights to say or write opinions that may (or may not) be on the fringe, but are nonetheless protected by the Constitution, and so a discussion was raised in the online community.
While Facebook has done so much for in terms of connecting people with their friends and family, finding jobs and forming new relationships, it’s currently in-style for people to criticise their “censorship”, as claimed.
This is part of a bigger, global discussion of Internet usage and its different aspects.
Authoritarian control over personalregional Internet access are seen as a problem in many areas of the world.
Surfing the Internet is not as private as once perceived it would be, and large service providers dominate everything from IP addresses and domain names to the sharing economy.
Initially a vision of an open, permissionless age of information and communication, the Internet has evolved into a network pervaded by pockets of centralized and closed systems to capture value – often with overlooked and adverse consequences.
However, primarily due to the revelations of government surveillance, third-party data impropriety, and a renewed vigor in privacy and decentralization, initiatives are pushing forward towards a more permissionless and decentralized Internet.
An area that cypherpunks touted as the last vestige of privacy in a future digital age, cryptography, more precisely public-key encryption, has offered a renewed vision for enhanced privacy.
Tangential privacy developments of cryptocurrencies like zero-knowledge proofs (ZKPs) have captured the attention of Google’s Sergey Brin as ‘truly mindboggling’ and even are undergoing experimentation by banks and open networks for anonymous value transfer.
Other projects, like Nym Protocol, try to end the pervasiveness of Internet surveillance and censorship by building a new protocol for decentralized messaging and privacy services that don’t leak metadata – based on an old concept of mixnets from cryptographer David Chaum.
Privacy tools by themselves are often not sufficient for sustaining the vision of a truly permissionless Internet though.
Privacy tools such as cryptography often form a mutually beneficial relationship with decentralization, which effectively can remove the dominance of trusted information holders that present so many security holes for privacy.
The Internet is built on a stack of open protocols, many of which have not evolved at the pace necessary to keep up with the demands of modern times, and even the Internet’s own evolution.
The limitations of HTTPS are making themselves more apparent, big registrars dominate the Internet domain name ecosystem, and IP addresses are becoming increasingly consolidated among a few major service providers.
For example, IPFS, the ‘Inter-Planetary File System’ is touted as the descendant of HTTPS for a new flat web, where P2P content delivery and resilient networks can serve as the backbone for a more efficient system than HTPPS, with the added benefit of decentralized storage capabilities.
The project is entirely open-source, which in itself, is another powerful trend reminiscent of the early days that are so often hotbeds of decentralized innovation and collaboration.
IP addresses and the outdated Internet domain system are also set for disruption, based on blockchains companies that are trying to solve said issues.
For example, IP Exchange is a P2P marketplace for buying and selling IP addresses temporarily. Rather than IP’s being dominated by a few service providers or VPNs where the addresses are often flagged or unavailable (i.e., trying to use Netflix if you’re traveling abroad) with specific applications, users can purchase an IP address for one-time or limited use.
Limited-use IP addresses can be used in combination with other privacy-preserving technologies as potent privacy tools for people in oppressed regions of the world.
Another project, Unstoppable Domains, is building an infrastructure required for uncensorable websites. The domains they create exist on the blockchain and are controlled directly by the owner rather than being subject to potential censorship.
Blockchains provide the foundation for such services to exist because public blockchains are uncensorable – such is the power of decentralization. Designed to be fault-tolerant, they are potential mediums for reconciling trust on the Internet rather than relying on a trusted third party.
The benefits of improved privacy and decentralization across the Internet could likely have an impact on oppressed regions of the world more than anywhere else.
Instances of imprisonment and subjugation of journalists, political dissidents, and activists in authoritarian regions remain a concerning problem.
All that said, we need to remember that some rules exist for a reason. Some people actually do need to get censored, especially in cases of violence, bullying and even worse.
So while some blockchain aspects might make a different in that world, we should find the best combination of freeing some people’s right to speak, with complying with rightful laws that protect other people.