Last April the government of Turkey banned Wikipedia, declaring it a threat to national security. Turkish courts upheld the ban. And yet — Wikipedia is still available online in Turkey.
The Turkish government has blocked a lot of websites. It started by shutting down sites that published child pornography, but moved on to objectionable music, and then sites that exposed corruption in the military and criticized the government. This time, though, the block didn’t work. Hacktivists used a blockchain-based system called the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) to circumvent the ban.
This news barely registered outside Turkey, but it’s a big deal. It means we are on our way, maybe, to a decentralized Internet.
The Internet was supposed to make us independent, educated, eclipse political boundaries, democratize information. To a certain extent it has, but in the past 18 months especially it has become clear its dependence on advertising creates an avenue for a few to monopolize internet power, money and to manipulate human will. We’re having trouble ferreting out truth, and our private lives are no longer private.
It isn’t just advertising that’s a problem. It’s also the Hyptertext Transfer Protocol System (HTTP), the underlying architecture for distributing information on the web. In order to access a website, HTTP requires ordinary users’ browsers to connect to a central server. It’s pretty easy to control and to block a central server.
Blockchain technology, as most of us have a vague notion of by now, is what makes Bitcoin possible. While many of us aren’t tuned into Bitcoin and probably shouldn’t be, the underlying technology makes it possible to structure the internet more equitably. It allows computers to communicate with other computers, without a central server. The InterPlanetary File System (brainchild of Juan Benet, developed by Protocol Labs) uses blockchain tech to store copies of data in many places, retrievable with a single address.
When Turkey blocked Wikipedia by shutting down its server, cyber hacktivists copied Turkish Wikipedia and re-posted it on the InterPlanetary File System.
The details of how it works are too dense for a single blog post. For now, the important thing is: the IPFS is, compared the traditional internet, a level playing field. There is no InterPlanetary File System company. Anyone can access or participate in storing and sharing. Information is processed by anonymous participants who compete for the honor of storing it in a “block,” where it is forever public and almost impossible to alter or destroy.
There are hurdles and questions. For one, Blockchain technology needs horrendous amounts of energy. Also, it’s not clear to me happens when embedded information is incorrect. Can corrupt information be planted in a chain? Are mistakes and bad choices forever exposed, preventing people tied to those mistakes from moving on?
More to come.
Featured Image Photo Source: descriptive.com
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