Panel “Privacy and Freedom on Decentralized Web” Recap

The Taxa Team
Jul 28, 2018 · 5 min read

During the recent Distributed 2018 Conference — Unlocking the Global Power of Decentralized Business on July 19-20, 2018 in San Francisco, attendees got to sit down and participate in the “Privacy and Freedom on Decentralized Web” panel, moderated by TF Guo, Co-founder of Taxa.

The panelists who joined Guo are: Steven Waterhouse, Co-founder of Orchid; Matthew Liu, Co-founder of Origin; and Brendan Eich, Co-founder of Basic Attention Token.

Below is a recap of this insightful panel.

“Privacy serves an important purpose for why we go to decentralization”, Guo said, nudging the panelists to talk about the importance of privacy in their vertical industry and how they aim to solve it using decentralized approach.

Eich, the creator of JavaScript, said “When I started at Brave, the conventional wisdom was that privacy didn’t matter, people didn’t value privacy. I think this is false. I think we’re seeing it progressively over time rises in consciousness of importance of privacy. It matters to users in economics terms. Cryptocurrencies have allowed us to undo the deadweight losses of monopolies and cartels forced on people. We see a better way to price users in and pay publishers better by cutting down intermediaries. So privacy matters to users in real costs.”

Liu added “Privacy is absolutely important and undervalued, and we’re seeing a bit of this come forward with the Facebook news etc. Do users understand how your data is being used? Do they actually formally consent to it in an intelligent way? Or are they just being pushed through it by these big conglomerates and then they’re at the mercy of Facebook ads or Google ads? So user optionality is something that i think we want to be able to give back to Internet users. In many cases that means we do want to hide data. We do want things to basically be controlled, and we want to be incentivized to share that data. Overall privacy has not been to the center stage in the past as it should have been and now it is center stage and we should embrace that.”

Waterhouse continued “I think there’s definitely a balance though, I think you can still have applications which use user data and as you were talking about give people some control over that, but also give people the option to have them not be mass-surveilled. I definitely do have a social profile to promote the company and other things but i’m also conscious of what I’m sharing and I think differently about how i share this with my family, which I don’t, or telling people exactly what location i’m in and what my address is.” And his advice was “just be conscious of what you’re being private about.”

Next, Guo talked about how privacy and decentralization come with a cost. ”For example, maybe in performance, maybe in usability or tech barrier, or sometimes in revenue”, Guo said to the panelists, “How do you balance the security and freedom against those downsides? And how do you convince your friends to use your product or service instead of a centralized equivalent?”

Eich expressed, “One comment on privacy by default which I do advocate. Right now, the user is a disadvantage and has no collective bargaining power, so trying to find a balance for weak position won’t work. You’ll be taken advantage of by the strong players. Absolutely, the government and the big companies. And so I think by default you should be more secure.”

Liu added on the aspect of decentralization, saying that “There are many challenges to it. There are scalability challenges, there are sometimes security challenges, and so decentralization itself is not an implementation that is an actual value creator. From one perspective, decentralization is only worth the tax, the engineering tax, the organizational tax, the educational tax for consumers, unless the decentralized solution creates real value that’s different from the existing centralized counterparts. It’s faster to code in python or node than it is to figure out how to build something on ethereum IPFS. Are there situations in which decentralization actually matters and solves real problems? 100,000%. There are 2 billion people that are unbanked right now, they don’t have bank accounts, credit cards, they can’t get lending, a lot of them are still dealing with fiat currencies that are highly unstable and very volatile, a lot of them are still dealing with barter. If you can solve that access problem and can get these goods and services into people’s hands through a decentralized marketplace, you’ve solved a real problem.”

Waterhouse added some last remarks, asking everyone to “go down the rabbit hole”, and “start from different design principles”. Steven said “It’s important to look at the actual objective functions of what you’re trying to solve. Look at bitcoin, it’s not a very efficient design. It’s much more efficient to take an oracle database and a server — now the challenge to that is it’s not resistant to attack. I can go unplug that machine, or I can take over the company that does it, or I can look at the backend and manipulate and change that information. So what bitcoin does, with the way it’s designed, which is not efficient, is to resist the ability for people to come in and act either by attacking that network, or by manipulating that network. The idea of being resistant to different kinds of attacks is a design objective quite different to being highly efficient.” He added “Once we start from different design principles, it starts helping you to understand whether these sort of tradeoffs in efficiency and security and so on are really there or not”.

Guo concluded the panel by thanking the panelists for their sharing, with a positive note on the promising future of the decentralized web.

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