I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. If you are making mistakes... you're Doing Something"

Neil Gaiman Author

Own your data, keep your data

Privacy is, as Edward Snowden points out, crucial to all other rights. There can be no freedom of speech without privacy. And given the speed by which machine learning is becoming and ever more reliable tool to deduce our intents and predict our individual behaviour, even the freedom of thought is coming under fire. The freedom to make up our own minds is being infringed on by ways evolving far tor fast for our ancient defences. The thoughts we think our own may still be thought by us, but if they were placed their by shrewd marketers and murky algorithms, are they any more our own than a virus rampaging through our body?
Privacy is paramount. Yet, if we are attempting to create an open-source network of networks, a space to share ideas and build a better future, how do we do this without sharing data freely? Where do we draw the line between public and private, and between private and secret? And how do we protect that which must remain secret.

All human beings have three lives: public, private, and secret. “

Gabriel García Márquez

This might be the most challenging nut to crack of them all. How do we share data and communicate in such a way that we do not violate the need for privacy? If we are to discuss and vote on contentious issues, we must also protect the identity of those who vote in ways that might put them at risk. The assassination of leaders is an all too prevalent historical and contemporary way of eradicating any opposition, from opposition to the appropriation of resources by capitalist corporations to the purging of dissidents by communist regimes. And this is only in the public sphere. 

Sifting through private records by the Stasi operatives of East Germany might have had a different publicly stated objective than that of the current massive, sweeping surveillance of the domestic arm of the western states, but data is data and sooner or later someone will come along who will make use of that data for their own nefarious purposes.

In order to deal with all of this, we need many layers of protection. And for the record, let us establish right now that we do not have hardly any of them in place. As it stands, we are building a prototype, and prototypes are for testing. You don’t send a manned mission to Mars in a prototype. Nor do you launch a sensitive political campaign and share secret data over a prototype.  We are simply years away from the kind of data security and the protection of individuals we would need to be reasonably confident there will be no breeches. 

This does not mean the platform should not be used at all. To the contrary, we have no algorithms that aim to manipulate your behaviour, have no interest in monitoring your private conversations nor do we mine and sell your data in the way that most of the social media platforms you probably use on a daily basis do. That said, if you want to keep a secret, don’t store it on the internet.

We do take a two pronged approach to privacy. On the one hand, we allow our users to operate under pseudonyms. So if you hold opinions or want to discuss topics that might harm you professionally or put you in a precarious situation in other ways, such putting you in the sights of an oppressive regime, you will have something of a buffer. As the cryptography sphere develops, we should be able to build this protection out reasonably well. Which is fortunate as change making will invariably lead to push back from those who like things fine the way they are.

On the other hand, private data will need to be stored and shared with trusted parties in some form or another. These might not be for sinister reasons at all all, just as the fact that you don’t want people to be reading your private diary freely is not nefariously motivated. 

Though it is early days yet, we are partnering up with a number of actors in the field who aim to provide distributed security solutions. And given that such protocols as Bitcoin have been around for ten years plus without a single code being broken by a third party, there is reason to be optimistic about this, at least. We are aiming for a model where your private data is stored in a distributed manner and is only available when you yourself are online and have unlocked it. Parts of this data you will be able to let others access even when you are not online, in shared repositories. 

For now, the main takeaway is that the difference between ours and most other major platforms is that our business model does not require us to spy on you, manipulate you or sell you stuff. To the contrary, protecting your identity and your personal data is crucial for your success and thus ours. 

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