The journey that I have decided to take with Siderus brought myself always in embarrassing moment on meetings Hyped discussion about “Blockchain” and data storage. In this article I don’t want to talk about the misconceptions about storing data into a blockchain, but instead I want to focus on a more generic question that I have been asked: Is a blockchain useful for human being? Can we use it for good?
From now on I am going to talk about Bitcoin and Ethereum, not “blockchain” nor distributed ledgers (DLTs). I do believe and I do use the word Blockchain when I want to fool people as it works perfectly for PR Stunt. I am not that kind of person and I prefer to talk about the technology: The current implementation of Ethereum and Bitcoin are considered as a base of this article.
Are those technologies good for humanity? We can tackle this question from different point of views, financial, data privacy, automation… but in all the cases we know we live in a ever-evolving era and Ethereum and Bitcoin are continuously getting improvements, but most of the core concepts will stay there.
One of these core concepts is related to data immutability. It is one key factor to have an ordered list of events that are immutable over time. All these transactions contains data that can’t be changed, and therefore it will raise a question. What if I publish something and later on I will regret? In most of the cases this is related to financial decisions and especially for Ethereum, it may be related to some IPFS hashes getting published or some Smart Contract events or a dApp registration to get some free kitties. This means that if you agree on publishing any personal data there, you are sure it will stay there forever…
Have you posted something on facebook that you are now regretting? That doesn’t exclude the fact that in first place the user should be more responsible for the data before uploading it. Thanks to the European laws I will be able to extract all the information and use the right to be forgotten…
But when using a decentralized service like bitcoin you have a technical limit: you can’t ask the nodes to forget an old transaction containing some of your data or the hash of that content. Why? It is technically impossible to do so. This is an important feature to validate future data. If somebody says to you that they have a “blockchain” where data can be deleted, probably it is a fake blockchain. That is why a simple white paper with no technical details about how it works may be just a PR stunt. Document yourself before using any technology!
Having said that, when there is an issue the Open Source communities joins together to find solutions and build new products. Data can be encrypted already and privacy (kinda) is on its way to Ethereum. A lot of dApps do not require you to upload your personal information in a blockchain, and I don’t think there is even space for that in a block. At the same time at Siderus are working on several solution to increase the space usable in Ethereum/Bitcoin, as well as ensuring data encryption. In any case, nobody can stop the users from uploading their sensible data on any platform: Remember that embarrassing post somebody shared on Facebook long time ago? 😅
So is this technology good? I think so, but don’t be stupid.
A good example is the Refugee project made by Bitnation. That sounds like a good idea for some people: schedule the refugees, track them to offer emergency services and validate their identities. is it good? This could be different, as some may agree, others may disagree. I don’t like humans to be tracked as cattle… but the implementation could be different and it could respect every human being by applying some concept of cryptography, or just using it to validate integrity of data.
What about a Ethereum-based Facebook? This one is more interesting, because it will reduce censorship, help exchanges of ideas… but by removing the control over the data that Facebook has, the platform could breach the ethical limits, as well as people regretting decision. The case of Cambridge Analytica would be a joke, as even if encrypted some information will always be available to the whole network… and being able to remove that a from the blockchain would defeat the benefits of having a blockchain in first place.
You can use a knife to kill, to hurt yourself or to prepare a delicious meal. The same applies for these technologies. It is up to us to choose how. We can make mistakes but we also need to learn from them. Are Ethereum and Bitcoin good for us? Is this protocol and technology a good choice for humans? I will let you decide. My obvious take on this is: yes it is, but use it wisely. Seriously.