Are trust-free systems on blockchain totally trust free?

Adam Le
Adam Le
Apr 27, 2018 · 2 min read

This is a short article review of: “The limits of trust-free systems: A literature review on blockchain technology and trust in the sharing economy” focusing solely on the trust aspect of blockchain-based system. For more detail information, reasons, and examples, the article should be read.


One of the most popular concept for blockchain potential disruptive application is building a trust-free systems where participants are no longer in need of a trusted third party nor even the trust itself. Thanks to blockchain nature of immutable and publicly available records, all information will be stored in a transparent and uncorrupted way. Trust-free systems may bring a truly decentralised markets, in other word, a sharing economy 2.0 where people can use smart contract to bind the other party for exchanging services and goods such as car driving or accommodation sharing. The global hype around blockchain and trust-free systems may deter us from carefully examining and researching for foundation of building such robust systems. As the concept and perception of trust are rather different from personal viewpoint and culture viewpoint, there will be a need to create a sophisticated framework to build trust-free systems on blockchain as well as measurement of level of trust by implementing such those systems.

It is worth to notice that smart contract is the most critical ingredient to nurture and maintain trust in a blockchain-based system. Although a so-called trust-free system sounds attractive, the trust aspect does not totally disappear and instead shifts from central authorities towards the smart contract that govern participants. Therefore, a smart contract should possess some of the following conditions. First, the written code should be understandable and supported by thorough and easy-to-read code comments. Second, the smart contract should have integrity — honest and ethical. Last but most important, the smart contract should be free from unilaterally manipulable data — no single institution or person is able to dictate and manipulate the input data to the contract. Moreover, the trust in smart contract, or “algorithmic trust” is not just limited to the code itself. This trust also depends on sociotechnical factors such as support of third party and the community involving around the system, the legitimacy of the system builder organization/person, and possible legal frameworks related to the system.

In short, a trust-free system does not abandon the trust aspect at all. To be accurate, that system only alleviates part of the trust conditions (trust in peers and platforms), and instead shifts the main trust issue onto smart contract. Other trust factors still exist such as the legitimacy of the contract writers/issuers.

Adam Le

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Adam Le

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