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Blockchain vs Corporate Censorship: Decentralization on Guard of Free Speech

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In the era of digital media, the major threat to free expression comes not from predatory governments but from corporate entities that came to control the flow of communication.

The incumbent media economy, which is based on commodifying user attention and turning profits from ad targeting, has endowed a handful of profit-driven platforms with enormous power to shape the ways people interact online. It is now corporations that pass judgment on what constitutes legitimate or illegitimate speech in the new public arena.

Those who really keep the wheels of the digital economy turning – content creators, community administrators and moderators – have taken a back seat, largely unable to benefit from the value they generate. Many of them set out to explore alternative monetization models, often taking to services that enable the flow of individual subscriptions and donations from content consumers to creators.

But at some point, it became apparent that these centralized payment systems are hardly just providers of value-neutral financial infrastructure that they often claim to be. The recent exodus of prominent right-leaning public personalities from the crowdfunding platform Patreon is perhaps the most salient example.

The trouble with Patreon

Political speech and money that fuels it are closely intertwined. Previously, many high-profile figures on the political right have accused social platforms like Facebook and Twitter of stifling conservative voices by selectively implementing their anti-hate speech to block and ban users based on their politics.

Towards the end of 2018, allegations of liberal bias spilled over the narrow circle of content-hosting websites to payment systems and crowdfunding services. A wave of backlash against Patreon, a service that facilitates user payments to content creators, erupted late in 2018 as the conservative YouTuber known as Sargon of Akkad and the alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos were barred from the platform. Creators with massive Patreon follower base, such as the author and podcaster Sam Harris and psychologist Jordan Peterson announced they were parting ways with the crowdfunding site over what they perceived as manifestations of arbitrary censorship.

If you do not share values of the new right or those who are disgruntled with so-called cultural Marxism, it is easy to dismiss such cases as a justified exclusion of the obnoxious fringe guys from a respectable conversation. The problem is that while no overarching legal framework exists to chart the limits of platforms’ capacity to implement their homegrown rules for policing speech, these corporate actors are essentially given the authority to allow or suppress viewpoints as they please.

Driven by the logic of profit maximization, centralized platforms will always cater to the views and tastes of the majority, which can lead to suppression of meaningful contrarian opinions that happen to be uncomfortable.

Decentralized solutions for journalism

Blockchain entrepreneurs have sought to heal these ills by designing models of content creation and consumption that are independent of a single intermediary’s whims. Several projects emerged whose ambition is to create media ecosystems that offer both a fairer distribution of value between the members of community and safeguards against centralized censorship.

Startups like Civil and Decentralized News Network (DNN) were designed to harness game-theoretic design and affordances of the token economy to create self-sustained, community-driven platforms for creation and curation of news content, free of centralized censorship. These projects, though, are focused rather narrowly on solving the problems of public affairs journalism, and they are not geared towards a broader range of user-generated content.

Halfway in between these platforms for community-supported journalism and decentralized social media for everyone is PUBLIQ, an ecosystem whose creators are mindful of both the uneven distribution of value and the threat of censorship.

PUBLIQ’s protocol is designed to support all sorts of free expression, not confined to “hard” news. Interestingly, unlike most of the other similar models, PUBLIQ’s architecture incorporates advertising as one of the major monetization tools. In contrast to the likes of Facebook, all the revenue derived from ads will be distributed among community members.

“Social” means “distributed”

Steemit, a blockchain-powered social network that rewards content publishers and curators, is arguably the major player in the space today. Members can earn a small amount of the Steem token if their post gets upvoted; readers can also tip authors directly. Although this model produces a wider dispersal of value than centralized platforms, it still tends to favor a limited share of the most successful creators.

Meanwhile, a new generation of social platforms that harness the power of blockchain technology is already snapping at Steemit’s heels. One of the most ambitious projects in this cohort is HyperSpace, whose economic model leverages a mechanism that might seem radical even for some in the crypto space: the Universal Basic Income (UBI).

It is exactly what it sounds like – a guaranteed amount of the platform’s native AMP token regularly delivered to users. The idea is to distribute the value that community creates between as many of its active members as possible, thus enabling a virtuous cycle where further meaningful activity is reinforced.

One more distinctive feature of HyperSpace’s design is that it provides a means of rewarding group administrators for the often unnoticed, yet valuable work that they do. Along with the UBI, it could provide for a vibrant, self-reinforcing decentralized economy that will allow the widest range of users to extract value from creating and sharing social content. It goes without saying that the system is resistant to centralized censorship, as posts go to a distributed cloud powered by the IPFS technology.

There is hope that emerging projects like PUBLIQ and HyperSpace can get us a step closer than their predecessors to a social media economy that rewards the people who create value rather than corporations that merely provide the infrastructure. Once platforms’ economic power is widely distributed, arbitrary censorship will become impossible, clearing the way for a more robust and inclusive marketplace of ideas.



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Guest Post

Hyperledger Sawtooth: Performance Problem and the way to solve it

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Hyperledger Sawtooth: Performance Problem and the way to solve it

The Hyperledger global initiative within the Open Source movement, bringing together hundreds of technology giants [for example, Huawei, Intel, and Samsung], startups [Blockstream, Lykke, Consensys] and solutions [Netki, Factom, bloq], has become a real push for the entire blockchain industry in forming not only a strong community but also a completely different perception of technology through the prism of innovations in business.

Hyperledger can be called a global collaboration organized by the Linux Foundation. In turn, the uncommercial Linux development consortium, the Linux Foundation, creates sustainable ecosystems around open source projects to develop technologies and implement them in businesses.

Founded in 2000, the Linux Foundation supports communities and innovative projects through financial and intellectual resources, making ambitious and successful contributions to creating technologies for widespread use.

The consortium launched Hyperledger in December 2015 and in February of the following year, it became known about the first participants of the initiative.

The main Hyperledger’s focus is to improve the reliability and performance of the blockchain through comprehensive cooperation with the platform participants, whose number is already over 250.

It is worth noting that for many projects Hyperledger has become the starting point for the development of their own business apps: many solutions have been created on the basis of the platform, ranging from smart contracts to complex multi-stage innovations.

One of the advantages of using Hyperledger is the interaction between its participants since third-party developers can make their own changes to the already created platforms, thus modifying the services and providing new opportunities to end users.

Hyperledger expands its global business and improves its internal processes, developing also the technologies of the Internet of things, logistics, industry, etc.

Platform participants have access to five main frameworks, on the basis of which blockchain solutions can be created, depending on the goals set by the projects’ creators.

Hyperledger Burrow

This framework appeared in 2014 and works in conjunction with Ethereum Virtual Machine [EVM]. Solutions based on Hyperledger Burrow allow enterprises to use smart contracts to optimize their business processes.

Hyperledger Fabric

Initiated by the IBM tech giant, the Hyperledger Fabric framework is the foundation for developing complex, scalable applications for corporations.

Businesses can use smart contracts and many other components. Feature of Hyperledger Fabric can be called a high level of performance, off-chain channels, as well as integration with corporate access control systems.

Hyperledger Iroha

Hyperledger Iroha is designed for easy implementation into a project. This framework is suitable for many businesses, as it is distinguished by a rather light construction and focus on mobile platforms.

In addition, by analogy with the Fabric, Hyperledger Iroha has a well-developed access control system.

Hyperledger Indy

The framework is used for decentralized identification. Hyperledger Indy provides reusable services for creating and using independent digital identifiers.

Hyperledger Sawtooth

Hyperledger Sawtooth deserves special attention since this framework is quite popular. Operating on the new consensus algorithm, Proof of Elapsed Time [PoET], which stands out from the rest with minimal use of resources, the Hyperledger Sawtooth is considered by the community as one of the most promising.

This solution’s developer, Intel, is confident that Hyperledger Sawtooth is ideal for businesses whose requirements exceed the capabilities of the available public blockchains.

The PoET algorithm provides highly efficient consensus achievement without a serious resources’ cost even in an environment where contractors don’t know each other and they have no reason to trust other participants.

The Sawtooth blockchain platform is designed to counteract denial of service attacks that become more likely in a public blockchain environment or in an environment in which unknown parties can interact.

The reason for the popularity of this framework can also be called the ability to integrate with hardware security solutions, “reliable execution environments”, among which are scalable Intel Xeon E processor from Intel.

At the same time, in Hyperledger Sawtooth were found flaws. In the GitHub user profile eugene-babichenko, the problem that the developer was able to solve was described in detail.

It is important to note that the network built on Hyperledger Sawtooth consists of 30 nodes located in different regions [from Europe and the USA to Singapore] and at three different cloud providers.

Having contacted the developer, it was possible to find out that while the node was experiencing problems with the network connection and could not access the minimum number of peers, the blockchain node, in turn, began to consume an increasing amount of RAM.

As a result, the system crashed in about a day, operating on a server with 1 GB of RAM.

The blockchain developer, after careful monitoring, determined that the component that caused the crash was a Sawtooth validator.

It is responsible for connecting all the other components of the blockchain node [transaction processors, APIs, consensus modules], and also manages network connections and data storage.

The vulnerability was discovered in the inner essence of Sawtooth, which is designed to manage some of the computing and networking staff.

The study revealed that the system was overloaded due to saving instances when trying to reconnect to peers. Since each instance has its own waiting time [which was originally used only to block calls], it was decided to clear the futures’ collections based on this timeout.

The developer of the 482.solutions company, using the example of this vulnerability, warns his colleagues about the need to be attentive with the use of RAM in their apps.

Moreover, Eugene noted that the use of open source products can be really useful in cases where your tool behaves strangely and requires immediate corrections.

In the case of the problem described above, 482.solutions just forked Sawtooth core, fixed it, tested the fix and sent this change to the upstream repository.

Conclusion

The blockchain technology is undoubtedly capable of transforming the most well-known business approaches. The Hyperledger platform, in turn, is an indispensable engine of this progress, since it focuses on the development of blockchain solutions for enterprises.

At the same time, you should not lose sight of the fact that Hyperledger is not a magical place that will solve all the corporation’s problems with a few clicks.

To work with frameworks, you need a strong team that owns all the knowledge in the field of blockchain technologies and businesses digitalization. It is also necessary to pay attention to the previous experience of developers.

For example, the 482.solutions company, whose member fixed the problem in Hyperledger Sawtooth, previously contributed to OpenZeppelin and Ethereum, and also provides services to develop a Remme solution.

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