Tag Archives: censorship

Decentralization: Be Unstoppable and Ungovernable

The trucker’s freedom convoy in Canada has revealed how individuals are vulnerable to tyrannical (rights violating) actions by governments and corporations cooperating with authoritarian diktats across jurisdictional boundaries. Maajid Nawaz warns of totalitarian power over the populace using a social credit system imposed via central bank digital currency (CBDC) regimes being developed to eliminate cash. “Programmable” tokens will give the state power to control who may participate in financial transactions, with whom, when, for what, and how much. Such a regime would enable government tyranny to reign supreme over everyone and across everything within its reach.

Centralized dictatorial power is countered by decentralization, especially that which is designed into technology to become unchangeable by humans after the technology proliferates. The design principle is known as Code is law. The Proof of Work (PoW) consensus algorithm in Bitcoin is one such technology. CBDC is an attempt to prevent Bitcoin from becoming dominant. Criticism of PoW using too much electricity is another tactic. National and supranational powers (above nation states) are working against decentralization in order to preserve their dominance. The World Economic Forum (WEF) is installing its people into national legislatures and administrations to enact policies similar to those of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to concentrate globalized power for greater centralization of control.

We look toward Web3 and beyond to enable decentralization of digital services. As we explore decentralized applications, we must consider the intent behind distributed architectures for decentralization. What do we want from Web3?

Unstoppable Availability

Traditionally, we think about availability with regard to failure modes in the infrastructure, platform services, and application components. Ordinarily, we do not design for resiliency to the total loss of infrastructure and platform, because we don’t consider our suppliers to be potentially hostile actors. However, global integration and the unholy nexus of multinational corporations with foreign governments to impose extrajudicial punishments on individuals, who reside outside the jurisdiction of governments hostile to their cause, put them within the reach of unjust laws and tyrannical diktats of authoritarians. It is clear now that this is one of the greatest threats that must be mitigated.

Web3 technologies, such as blockchain, grew out of recognition that fiat is the enemy of the people, and we must decentralize by becoming trustless and disintermediated. Eliminate single points of failure everywhere. Run portably on compute, storage, and networking that are distributed across competitive providers in adversarial jurisdictions across the globe without cooperation. When totalitarianism comes, Bitcoin is the countermove. Decouple from centralized financial systems, including central banking and fiat currencies. Become unstoppable and ungovernable, resistant to totalitarianism.

To become unstoppable, users need to gain immunity from de-platforming and supply chain disruption through decentralization. Users need to be able to keep custody of their own data. Users need to self-host the application logic that operates on their data. Users need to compose other users’ data for collaboration without going through intermediaries (service providers who can block or limit access). Then, to achieve resiliency, users need to be able to migrate their software components to alternative infrastructure and platform providers, while maintaining custody of their data across providers. At a minimum, this migration must be doable by performing a human procedure with some acceptable interruption of service. Ideally, the possible deployment topologies would have been pre-configured to fail-over or switch-over automatically as needed with minimal service disruption. Orchestrating the name resolution, deployment, and configuration of services across multiple heterogeneous (competitive) clouds is a key ingredient.

Custody of data means that the owner must maintain administrative control over its storage and access, as well as having the option of keeping a copy of it on physical hardware that the owner controls. Self-hosting means that the owner must maintain administrative control over the resources and access for serving the application functions to its owner, and for that hosting to be unencumbered and technically practical to migrate to alternative resources (computing, financial, and human).

If Venezuela can be blocked from “some Ethereum services”, that is a huge red flag. Service providers should be free to block undesirable users. But if the protocol and platform enables authorities to block users from hosting and accessing their own services, then the technology is worthless for decentralization. Decentralization must enable users to take their business elsewhere.

Ungovernable Privacy

Privacy is a conundrum. Users need a way to identify themselves and authenticate themselves to exert ownership over their data and resources. Simultaneously, a user may have good reason to keep their identity hidden, presenting only a pseudonym or remaining cloaked in anonymity in public, where appropriate. Meanwhile, governments are becoming increasingly overbearing in their imposition of “Know Your Customer” (KYC) regulations on businesses ostensibly to combat money laundering. This is at odds with the people’s right to privacy and being free from unreasonable searches and surveillance. Moreover, recruiting private citizens to spy on and enforce policy over others is commandeering, which is also problematic.

State actors have opposed strong encryption, and they have sought to undermine cryptography by demanding government access to backdoors. Such misguided, technologically ignorant, and morally bankrupt motivations disqualify them from being taken seriously, when it comes to designing our future platforms and the policies that should be applied. Rights are natural (a.k.a. “God-given” or inalienable), and therefore they (including privacy) are not subject to anyone’s opinion regardless of their authority or stature. Cryptographic technology should disregard any influence such authorities want to exert, and design for maximum protection of confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Do not comply. Become ungovernable.

Composability

While the capabilities and qualities of the platform are important, we should also reconsider the paradigm for how we interact with applications. Web2 brought us social applications for human networking (messaging, connecting), media (news, video, music, podcasts), and knowledge (wikis). With anything social, group dynamics invariably also expose us to disharmony. Web2 concentrated power into a few Big Tech platforms; the acronym FAANG was coined to represent Facebook (now Meta), Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google (now Alphabet). With centralized control comes disagreement over how such power should be wielded as well as corruption and abuse of power. It also creates a system that is vulnerable to indirect aggression, where state actors can interfere or collude with private actors to side-step Constitutional protections that prohibit governments from certain behaviors.

David Sacks speaks with Bari Weiss about Big Tech’s assault on free speech and the hazard of financial technologies being used to deny service to individuals, as was done to the political opponents of Justin Trudeau in Canada in response to the freedom convoy protests.

Our lesson, after enduring years of rising tension in the social arena and culminating in outright tyranny, is that centralized control must disappear. Social interactions and all forms of transactions must be disintermediated (Big Tech must be removed as the middlemen). The article Mozilla unveils vision for web evolution shows Mozilla’s commitment to an improved experience from a browser perspective. However, we also need a broader vision from an application (hosted services) perspective.

The intent behind my thoughts on Future Distributed Applications and Browser based capabilities is composability. The article Ceramic’s Web3 Composability Resurrects Web 2.0 Mashups talks about how Web2 composability of components enabled mashups, and it talks about Web3 enabling composability of data. The focus is shifting from the ease of developing applications from reusable components to satisfying the growing needs of end users. Composability is how users with custody of their own data can collaborate among each other in a peer-to-peer manner to become social, replacing centralized services with disintermediated transactions among self-hosted services. The next best alternative to self-hosting is enabling users to choose between an unlimited supply of community-led hosted services that can be shared by like-minded mutually supportive users. The key is to disintermediate users from controlling entities run by people who hate them.

State of Technology

The article My First Web3 Webpage is a good introduction to Web3 technologies. This example illustrates some very basic elements, including name resolution, content storage and distribution, and the use of cryptocurrency to pay for resources. It is also revealing of how rudimentary this stuff is relative to the maturity of today’s Web apps. Web3 and distributed apps (dApps) are extremely green. Here is a more complicated example. Everyone is struggling to understand what Web3 is. Even search is something that needs to be rethought.

The article Why decentralization isn’t the ultimate goal of Web3 should give us pause. Moxie Marlinespike, Jack Dorsey, Mark Andreeson, and other industry veterans are warning us about the current crop of Web3 technologies being fraudulent and conflicted. Vitalik Buterin’s own views confess that the technology may not be going in the right direction. Ethereum’s deficiencies are becoming evident. This demands great caution and high suspicion.

Here is a great analysis of the critiques against today’s Web3 technologies. It is very clarifying. One important point is the ‘mountain man fantasy’ of self-hosting; no one wants to run their own servers. The cost and burden of hosting and operating services today is certainly prohibitive.

Even if the mountain man fantasy is an unrealistic expectation for the vast majority, so long as the threat of deplatforming and unpersoning is real, people will have a critical need for options to be available. When Big Tech censors and bans, when the mob mobilizes to ruin businesses and careers, when tyrannical governments freeze bank accounts and confiscate funds, it is essential for those targeted to have a safe haven that is unassailable. Someone living in the comfort of normal life doesn’t need a cabin in the woods, off-grid power, and a buried arsenal. But when you need to do it, living as a mountain man won’t be fantastic. Prepping for that fall back is what decentralization makes possible.

In the long term, self-hosting should be as easy, effortless, and affordable as installing desktop apps and mobile apps. We definitely need to innovate to make running our apps as cloud services cheap, one-click, and autonomous, before decentralization with self-hosting can become ubiquitous. Until then, our short-term goal should be to at least make decentralization practical, even if it is only accessible initially to highly motivated, technologically savvy early adopters. We need pioneers to blaze the trail in any new endeavor.

As I dive deeper into Web3, it is becoming clear the technology choices lean toward Ethereum blockchain to the exclusion of all else. Is Ethereum really the best blockchain to form a DAO? In Ethereum, writing application logic is expected to be smart contracts. Look at the programming languages available for smart contracts. Even without examining any of these languages, my immediate reaction is revulsion. Who would want to abandon popular general purpose programming languages and their enormous ecosystems? GTFO.

We need a general purpose Web architecture for dApps that are not confined to a niche. I imagine container images served by IPFS as a registry, and having a next-gen Kubernetes-like platform to orchestrate container execution across multicloud infrastructures and consuming other decentralized platform services (storage, load balancing, access control, auto-scaling, etc.). If the technology doesn’t provide a natural evolution for existing applications and libraries of software capabilities, there isn’t a path for broad adoption.

We are early in the start of a new journey in redesigning the Web. There is so much more to understand and invent, before we have something usable for developing real-world distributed apps on a decentralized platform. The technology may not exist yet to do so, despite the many claims to the contrary. This will certainly be more of a marathon, rather than a sprint.

Browser based capabilities

One approach to better empowering users and upstart services to avoid Big Tech censorship, suppression, and control is to build capabilities into the browser for mashing up and mixing in complementary services. This would provide a client-side (browser based) approach for third party complementary services to extend incumbent services without needing the incumbent’s authorization or cooperation. This would be one element of building Future Distributed Applications.

Using this approach, social media sites (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, etc.) that enforce authoritarian content moderation policies can be complemented by alternative services, where prohibited users and comments can be linked. Users could see the conversation with content merged from every desired source beyond Big Tech control. This approach for distributing comments that form a single conversation would be applicable to many services.

  • Comment on content where a user’s comments would be suppressed.
  • Annotate or review an article where commenting is not enabled. Allow an annotation to link precisely to a specific range of text, so it can be presented inline.
  • Add links to relevant content not referenced by the original.

This paradigm would enable end users to control how content is consumed, so that Web sites cannot censor or bias what information is presented about controversial topics.

Applying browser add-ons that mix-in complementary services would also enable end users to take information and process it in personalized ways, such as for fact-checking, reputation, rating, gaining insights through analytics, and discovering related (or contrarian) information. Complementary content could be presented by injecting HTML, or by rendering additional layers, frames, tabs, or windows, as appropriate.

Browser add-ons are only supported on the desktop, not mobile devices. Mobile devices would need to be supported for this paradigm to become broadly useful.

Social Media Bias

Tim Pool did a reasonable job of enumerating several areas of concern.

  1. Applying a single global standard (“community standards”) to American citizens imposes “hate speech” regulations that are antithetical to American principles of free speech protected by the US Constitution. [Similar to concerns I raise: https://www.jetpen.com/blog/2020/06/20/corporations-acting-as-agents-of-foreign-governments/  and https://www.jetpen.com/blog/2019/09/16/social-media-and-the-first-amendment/]
  2. Twitter claims to hold no politically biased agenda by intention, while trying to implement narrow goals around maximizing inclusion of users to conduct speech by protecting their physical safety (i.e., by disallowing targeted harassment and doxxing), but they have adopted ideologically biased policies that are selectively enforced in a manner that predominantly punishes conservatives.
  3. The near-monopoly status of the social media giants within their own niches combined with their unilateral decision-making that appear to most people to be politically biased in one direction will lead politicians, who are ignorant the actual issues and incompetent to formulate good solutions, will take a sledgehammer approach to regulate, and consequently make the situation much worse.
  4. The coordinated efforts among corporations to punish individuals across social media, hosting, Internet infrastructure, and payment processing systems demonstrates a terrifying abuse of power that is terrifying for how they can implement a social credit system that can unperson people in an extra-judicial manner without due process of law or avenues of redemption.

Corporations Acting as Agents of Foreign Governments

4A thought experiment

An American citizen uses a healthcare web site to manage his lab results, medical images, medications, and communications with his doctors, all of whom are in the US, as is the web site’s hosting and corporate headquarters. The web site also serves citizens in other countries in the same manner. One day, the German government obtains a warrant from a German court to gain access to an American’s private health information.

Would a libertarian say that the web site is a private company and they may do as they please to violate the American’s privacy rights by handing over information to agents who have no jurisdiction? I think we can all agree that the answer must be no.

1A thought experiment

Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and every other country enact hate speech legislation that is incompatible with the American Constitutional protections of free speech. American social media web sites must enforce these “community standards” to the satisfaction of all these jurisdictions in order to do business with users in those countries. It would be costly to treat each user specifically in accordance to the laws and regulations in their jurisdiction, so the company prefers to implement a uniform set of community standards that becomes a superset of all laws and regulations in every jurisdiction. That means every country’s government mandated censorship now applies to American citizens to infringe upon their free speech rights.

Would a libertarian say that the web site is a private company and they may do as they please to violate the American’s free speech rights?

Would a libertarian agree that a private company may act as an agent on behalf of a foreign government to implement foreign laws and regulations on American citizens, such as China’s social credit system?

Social Media and the First Amendment

As social companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google (YouTube) increasingly restrict what users can publish according their policies and “community standards”, we must be careful not to summarily dismiss such matters as private companies being free to operate their business as they please, because censorship (violating the First Amendment) is only applicable to state actors.

We must recognize three factors. (1) State actors are threatening to impose regulations or initiate anti-trust enforcement unless these companies self-regulate. Thus, the state is violating the First Amendment coercively through the back door. Or companies are working in cahoots with the government to implement the government’s desired regulations, knowing this is the only way such rules would not be struck down on Constitutional grounds. (2) Large corporations lobby for regulations to establish their own business practices as the status quo and raise barriers to entry for smaller competitors and start-ups. (3) Foreign governments want to enforce their laws and regulations, including against so-called “hate speech”, and corporations will enforce these rules against American citizens. All three are problematic from a First Amendment perspective.

Net Neutrality

Whenever government policies are implemented in the name of consumer protection, we can be sure that it is not consumers being protected, but rather crony industry incumbents. It is presented as a false alternative between government regulation or absence of regulation, when the strongest form of regulation with the greatest degree of consumer protection is the free market, where consumers decide how their dollars are spent. Good products from well-behaving businesses are rewarded. Bad products and ill-behaving businesses are punished, often to extinction. Moreover, when consumers are under-serviced, entrepreneurs enter the market to compete against under-performing incumbents by offering innovative new products and business practices to meet the demand for superior goods and services, often disrupting the status quo. Meanwhile, government regulations necessarily entrench the status quo. “Best practices” can only be best until innovations overtake them, at which time they become obsolete. Government regulations often continue to burden an industry with obsolete practices that prevent innovations from flourishing. Thus, incumbents are protected from agile upstarts.

Net Neutrality is promoted ostensibly to protect consumers from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) throttling traffic to disadvantage competitive “over the top” (OTT) content providers (e.g., Netflix) while favoring the ISP’s own content services (e.g., television in the case of a cable ISP). Another hypothetical straw man is for ISPs to charge customers to enable access to various information services. I would argue that no ISP would pursue such goals, because of the backlash and consequent mass-exodus of customers to the embrace of the ISP’s competition. ISPs would also want to avoid anti-trust concerns. Paranoia about ISP misbehavior disregards the lack of a business case. Net Neutrality was enacted in response to no ISPs actually implementing any anti-competitive traffic management on any significant scale.

Consumers want to preserve a “free and open Internet”—rightly so. ISPs have the practical capability to throttle traffic by origin (content provider), traffic type (e.g., video), or consumption (e.g., data limits for heavy users). They have no practical (cost-effective) mechanism to understand the meaning of the content to selectively filter it. ISPs have only blunt instruments to wield.

Unlike ISPs, content providers (e.g., Netflix, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Cloudflare, GoDaddy) are responsible for “information” services, which fall outside the scope of Net Neutrality for “transmission” by carriers. While ISPs have not attempted to damage a free and open Internet, we have already seen content providers behave very badly toward free speech, since they have the ability to understand the meaning of their content.

If a “free and open Internet” is what is desired, censorship, bans, de-platforming, and de-monetization by companies, who are the strongest advocates of Net Neutrality, are certainly antithetical to that aim. What is their real motive?

Content providers enjoy having their traffic delivered to customers worldwide. They only pay for the bandwidth to the networks they are directly connected to. They are not charged for their traffic transiting other networks, while routed to their end users. Content providers obviously like this arrangement, and they want to preserve this status quo (protecting their crony interests).

Without Net Neutrality, although ISPs may not have a business case for charging customers (end users) for differentiated services, they would have a strong business case for providing differentiated services (various levels of higher reliability, low latency, low jitter, and guaranteed bandwidth) to content providers. Improvements in high quality delivery (called “paid prioritization”) would be beneficial to innovative applications that may not be viable today. For example, remote surgery. With paid prioritization, this would motivate content providers to buy connectivity into an ISP’s network to provide higher quality service to their customers, who receive their Internet access from that ISP. Or to otherwise share revenue with the ISP for such favorable treatment of their traffic. The environment becomes much more competitive between content providers, while more revenue would be shared with the ISPs. ISPs would then be motivated to invest more heavily to improve their networks to capture more of this revenue opportunity. Consumers benefit from higher quality services, better networks, and increased competition (differentiation based on quality) among content providers.