Decentralization in technology.

Decentralize

There’s lots of talk right now about the role of technology companies in our lives and the huge power that some of them hold- Shadow Banning, Censorship, Questionable algorithms, Surveillance, Data Mining. An arbitrary moderation are all commonplace on large platforms and many of us are thinking about what we can do to improve the situation. One exciting Avenue that I want to explore is Decentralization which put simply means giving the platform back to the users. You’ve heard of BitTorrent and Bitcoin but there are so many more intriguing projects out there in different areas which could enable us to take back control. The question you might be asking is why should we decentralize? And I will go over some of the positives and negatives of such systems.

Centralized systems are the norm today. It just means a single company or entity owns a platform and the users have to connect to that company’s servers in order to use it. This means that fundamentally your account isn’t yours at all. It’s their property and you were basically granted access in return for giving them your data. By contrast, Decentralized systems are not owned by any single entity and in general the data is both created and distributed by the users themselves. This distinction means that the users have full control over their own data and identity. On such platforms not all of them have the same architecture.

Here’s our decentralized systems stuck up against some of the most common problems with our current centralized platforms.

1.) GATEKEEPRS

In centralized systems the owners of the platforms can act as gatekeepers. Arbitrarily granting or denying access. On the other hand(decentralized) as long as the user follows the rules for a particular decentralized protocol, anyone, anywhere can access those systems.

2.) CENSORSHIP

Overzealous employees and moderators can censor and shallow ban users at will and there’s very little that can be done about it. In comparison, most decentralized systems are censorship resistant and there’s no authority that can censor users or delete their accounts.

3.) DATA MINING

Many centralized services collect and sell your data in various ways. Almost all decentralized services use public key cryptography. So you have more control over who can and can’t see your data.

4.) SOURCE CODE

Most major centralized platforms today are closed source, so you don’t know how they work and what they’re doing behind the scenes. Algorithms could be warping what you see in order to manipulate you. Alternatively nearly all decentralized projects are free and open source software. So anyone can view exactly how the protocols and software works .

5.) OWNERSHIP

If you use a centralized service, they usually control the keys to your data and can access everything you do on their platforms. Your private messages are not private at all to them. One important feature of decentralized systems is public key cryptography. You alone own your keys, meaning, only you and your recipients can view private messages.

6.) DATA CENTRALIZATION

If a company gathers and centralizes large amounts of data on its users, it’s more likely that a massive data breach could occur. Even if a single user’s computer is compromised in the decentralized systems, the data breach is limited to only the infected user.

7.) RESILIENCE

If the company that runs the centralized service goes out of business or the servers go offline for whatever reason, everyone loses access. Alternatively, in decentralized systems, since the users often act as nodes(computers), distributing the data amongst themselves, there’s almost no way to shut decentralized systems down. As long as a handful of nodes exist in the world, the network continues.

CHALLENGES OF DECENTRALIZATION

Creating peer to peer systems that run smoothly is very difficult for a variety of reasons and often centralized systems are way easier to implement. But as I’ve explained, the price for this convenience is loss of control and on the myriad of downsides that come with that. Decentralized systems are a different beast entirely meaning a shift in mindset is required before using them.

The first point is about personal responsibility. Obviously this is a good thing but it’s something which requires the correct level of respect. All of these systems give the user full control over their keys so you and only you can access your data on the networks. This means if you accidentally lose them, your account will be inaccessible forever. There’s no recover password feature and you will only be responsible for protecting and backing off your keys.

Scaling could be an issue. Take bit messages flood protocol for example, since every user needs to download all messages on the network. In order to maintain anonymity, this could become a problem when the number of users scales up.

Moderation is also an extremely difficult challenge to overcome. Bad actors could post illegal material or spam the system and since no central authority is in control it’s impossible to just delete the data and ban the user. Different projects try to solve this in various ways. Some by aligning incentives are making it expensive to act maliciously or by combining self-policing systems like webs of trust, user controlled moderation and voting models, as well as client-side blocking to basically ostracized certain users and limit them from propagating data in the network.

On top of all that it’s worth taking into account that since you’re not connecting to a centralized service, the internal workings and connections between nodes that would have been hidden can now be seen by anyone watching the network. So even though the content of what he’s saying is encrypted and hidden, some of the metadata would still be available. Some projects get around this by implementing their own onion routing protocols which hides some routing information from nodes but they are currently the exception.

Hopefully this gives you a sense of why these kind of systems are very important and will likely be instrumental in the evolution of the internet.

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