Guy Zyskind is the CEO and co-founder of Enigma, a safe computation protocol that integrates with blockchains.

The next is an unique contribution to CoinDesk’s 2018 Year in Review.

2018 year in review

In 2018, two main long-term developments lastly collided in a really public vogue.

The primary pattern was the over-centralization of on-line platforms. For years, Fb, Google and others accrued energy and affect by centralizing person habits. Merchandise given to customers “free of charge” created closed techniques and echo chambers designed to maintain customers inside siloed ecosystems. In flip, platforms repackaged these captured customers into profitable promoting merchandise, creating an internet oligopoly.

The second pattern was the erosion of knowledge privateness. A whole lack of transparency round how information was used, shared and guarded by platforms and establishments led to some dramatic revelations. First, Cambridge Analytica whistleblowers uncovered how Fb information was misused to focus on people throughout political campaigns. The remainder of the 12 months was stuffed with information tales of massive data breaches, hacking coverups and sure, even more terrifying Facebook revelations.

So why did all the things explode in 2018? The reality is that these developments have been converging for a really very long time. Most of the most horrifying information gadgets of 2018 involved vulnerabilities which have existed for years. The one factor totally different about this 12 months is that we lastly began to note. And possibly that’s the scariest factor of all.

No simple repair

It’s simple to see how centralization and information privateness are linked. With out the suitable oversight, monopolistic platforms will not be held accountable for his or her use of our information – or how it’s protected. Additionally, maintaining information in centralized databases beneath a single entity’s management creates a juicy goal for opportunistic hackers who might leak, exploit, or ransom the info.

What’s not simple, nevertheless, is creating decentralized options that adequately deal with the problem of knowledge privateness. There have been numerous articles written over the previous 12 months extolling the virtues of blockchain and the way it might disrupt Fb’s enterprise perpetually by enabling decentralized social platforms. Most of those articles, nevertheless, contained a elementary misunderstanding of how blockchain labored or ignored its current limitations (like scalability and privateness). Consequently, they didn’t foresee how difficult addressing this drawback would truly be.

That is the place the third main pattern of 2018 is available in: the (over)correction of the blockchain hype cycle.

Enthusiastic hypothesis across the potential of blockchain exploded to unsustainable ranges in 2017 and carried over into this 12 months. Magazine covers and thought leaders promoted blockchain as a possible cure-all. Almost any drawback may very well be solved by “throwing a blockchain at it,” with WIRED famously categorizing 187 things the blockchain is supposed to fix. However as market costs for cryptoassets started to implode, this checklist narrowed dramatically over the course of 2018, culminating with extra proclamations from thought leaders that “blockchain is useless.”

Whereas there could also be no finish in sight for the primary two developments – monopolistic platforms nonetheless lack oversight and transparency, and the worst breaches of knowledge privateness are possible but to return – there are indicators the blockchain hype cycle has stabilized. Expectations are starting to align with actuality – and actual options are being proposed.

Decentralized options for information privateness

We revealed an article on the Enigma blog again in March (across the time of the unique Cambridge Analytica story) about how blockchain alone could not fix Facebook. As we wrote on the time:

“Whereas blockchain is nice for correctness and transparency, it fails in privateness. At this time, as blockchain is utilized to the monetary system, we’re capable of see all transactions which have ever taken place. In a future the place we’ve got decentralized social networks, we’ll see all likes, posts, and connections. In different phrases, blockchains alone can’t give folks management over their very own information.”

This assertion was our try to take a measured method to the issues of over-centralization and information privateness. Relatively than rejecting the utility of blockchain, we hoped that individuals would see blockchain for what it was good at being – a decentralized verification layer, not a whole platform. Thankfully, many builders and leaders within the area have embraced this wholesome perspective, together with Vitalik Buterin and the Web3 Foundation.

We count on 2019 to carry continued give attention to the non-blockchain layers of the tech stack for the decentralized internet. These embrace oracles, decentralized storage, state channels – however maybe most significantly – privacy-preserving computation. This permits encrypted information to be computed by nodes in a decentralized community – all with out revealing the info to the nodes themselves.

Secure computation has been a area of examine because the 1980s, lengthy earlier than Satoshi proposed bitcoin. It’s usually thought of the “holy grail” of pc science – and with current developments, we’re lastly starting to understand a number of the potentials of safe computation.

When mixed with different decentralized applied sciences comparable to blockchain, we are able to create foundational platforms for unstoppable purposes that protect the privateness of their customers. The dream of dapps has all the time been to place the wants and pursuits of customers first – defending their information and identities whereas stopping censorship. Decentralized privateness options are the lacking piece for realizing this dream.

In 2019, we are able to count on to see an increasing number of tasks within the blockchain area embracing privateness options, including Ethereum itself.

There are various applied sciences to discover, comparable to zero-knowledge proofs and zk-snarks/starks, trusted execution environments, safe multi-party computation and absolutely homomorphic encryption. Understanding any considered one of them is difficult, and the event work supporting these applied sciences remains to be in its earliest phases. Nonetheless, protocols primarily based on these privateness applied sciences have as a lot potential to reshape the world as blockchain itself – if not considerably extra so.

What now?

In 2018, the dialog across the potential of blockchains turned quickly from “what can’t they do?” to “what can they do?” Pundits started to declare blockchains an answer in quest of an issue. However this ignores the very actual issues throughout us, from authorities censorship to damaged monetary techniques to the frequent violation of knowledge privateness and safety.

In 2019, we imagine the dialog will flip once more as folks start to understand the deep relationship between these issues and decentralized options. Particularly, we count on folks to understand that the best dangers to information privateness have all the time come from centralized platforms and architectures – and that that is by design, not by chance. We additionally count on folks to know the restrictions of blockchain as a privateness resolution – once more by design. The developments have already coincided. It’s as much as all of us to assist draw the connections.

Our best precedence in 2019, past constructing, have to be training and advocacy. Importantly, this effort can’t simply be restricted to blockchain know-how. We should additionally give attention to different decentralized applied sciences and the issues they might help resolve, comparable to censorship and information privateness. In that final space, there are already many unbelievable organizations doing nice work on training and advocacy, together with the Tor Project and EFF.

We wish and want decentralized applied sciences to be globally applied and have international relevance. To do that, we should all embrace functions past hypothesis.

Our goal is privateness. What’s yours?

Facebook image through Shutterstock

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