Blockchain as a decentralized watchdog

Mar 26, 2016 | 5 minute read

Some people say that blockchain is the invention of the same magnitude as internet. The idea for one supercomputer stretched around the whole planet still sounds like a science-fiction concept, but it’s already happening. Bitcoin network exceeded computing power of TOP 500 supercomputers combined few years ago. New ideas are emerging daily, new startups are funded and launching their products, but we still have no comparable implementation of blockchain technology in terms of popularity. Nobody really knows what’s going to be the next Bitcoin.

Watchdog organizations face several problems for their actions, especially in censored countries. In many cases they are even illegal and repressed, forced to cease, their employees and whistleblowers arrested. Working against oppressive governments and organizations far more powerful than themselves, many activists spend years in prison or just mysteriously disappear while fighting for their rights and freedom.

In theory, blockchain’s features can enable the existence of perfect watchdog:

  • Open
  • Independent
  • Decentralized
  • Anonymous
  • Transparent
  • Data is stored forever
  • Data can not be altered

In places where you can not safely turn to the media or publish your documents without the visit of unexpected, armed guests at 6 AM next day, possibilities of exposing corruption, fraud and crime are very limited. But blockchain might be very promising solution to control those who attempt to control us.

Let’s see how features listed above are useful for our purposes.

Open

Access to blockchain requires no authentication, identification and prior authorization. Everyone can upload data (documents) to the network and have it visible instantly for everyone in the network.

Independent

Blockchain is not controlled by anyone, it’s not biased and does not rely on any single entity.

Decentralized

Instead of relying on a single point of failure, blockchain’s most recent copy is stored on thousands and millions of machines, which makes it impossible to shut down.

Anonymous

This is only partially true. Although you are anonymous in the blockchain itself, you can be exposed when buying cryptocurrency or connecting to the network. Currently it’s still rather difficult to remain anonymous on the internet.

Transparent

You can not hide anything. Everything you have ever uploaded to blockchain is visible by whole network.

Data is stored forever

As long as blockchain lives, uploaded data is available.

Data can not be altered

Once uploaded data will never change and nobody (including you) will be able to alter your uploads.


In the ideal world, every whistleblower will anonymously publish sensitive documents which then will be immediately propagated around the whole network and available for everyone interested. But we live in real, messy world where questions arise:

  • How to store files and documents secured and safely distributed with good redundancy?
  • How to prevent spam?
  • How to ensure documents are authentic?
  • How to make all published documents easy to find?

How to store files and documents secured and safely distributed with good redundancy?

In the blockchain, of course! Isn’t it all we are talking about right now?

While blockchain might be perfect permanent storage, it’s too inefficient and expensive to serve this role. We still have no fully developed methods to store multiple GBs of files in the blockchain. Technologies like IPFS, Swarm or decentralized clouds like Sia, Storj, Filecoin and Maidsafe seem to be nice solution, but now even more questions appear:

  • Who is going to pay for the storage to keep files in the network?
  • How to get access to files stored on encrypted storages? Where should the key be stored?
  • How to point to external clouds from blockchain?

Introducing Trusted Entities

Trusted Entity is just an account operating on Smart Contracts. It’s only job is to create Contracts which say

We, Trusted Entity XYZ believe this document is authentic and this Contract will provide funds to keep it online and decryption keys to access it

Everybody can be a Trusted Entity. Everyone uploading files and documents to the network automatically becomes a Trusted Entity by creating a Smart Contract with initial funds to keep them online for a certain amount of time. As Contracts are open source and available for everyone to execute, funds for storage can be provided by multiple parties.

Ideally, Trusted Entities would be watchdog organizations, NGOs and reputable individuals who would associate themselves with particular account address and issue contracts, later regularly filling them with funds.

But Trusted Entities should not be trusted by default! It can be expected to encounter malicious Trusted Entities issuing Contracts to support their political agenda and authenticating forfeit documents. As blockchain is fully transparent, these actions will be easy to spot and will hurt credibility of given Trusted Entity.

Community needs to decide who is worth trusting. More Trusted Entities will emerge, which only purpose will be watching other Trusted Entities and monitoring their credibility. Dapps will be created to harvest Contracts info and create searchable databases of Trusted Entities, Contracts and published files.

This ecosystem of Trusted Entities and Dapps will autonomously fight spam. Every spammer will have to spend some amount of funds to issue Contracts and keep uploaded files online and, if several Trusted Entities will not acknowledge his contribution as legit, nobody will trust him and therefore effort is wasted. Dapps could even choose to hide content not approved by minimum number of selected Trusted Entities to keep their databases clean from spam and improving end-user experience.

Where to go from here?

Many questions are still unanswered:

  • What should we actually store in the blockchain? Is it a place for excerpts or comments?
  • Do we need to define a standard of publishing to keep records well maintained over the years?
  • How to prevent centralization of trust?
  • If you can’t trust anyone, who should be responsible to keep files online?
  • Is this concept an useless piece of crap?
  • Is it possible to keep confusing blockchain backend technology away from non tech savvy whistleblowers?
  • What if released files put someone’s life in danger?

I write one post every few months. I can send you an email when I publish something new.