A Debate on Privacy, Distributed Ledgers, and Social Media

Introduction written by @Carpincho Dem, the new head of IEN. Article also inspired by Carpincho

Just as Apollodorus witnessed and transmitted the debate about Eros reflected in Plato’s Symposium, yesterday I had the chance to witness some IEN members discussing Data Privacy, DLTs and social media in our Discord server. Among those members were Ben Royce, who is starting Society2 as an attempt to provide a framework for decentralized social media. The following is what was discussed between our resident social media expert, Ben, and a few other members.

adam

@Ben Royce — just curious, can anyone explain to me the whole argument of owning your data. How do you really own it if you give access to a third party and they just make a copy of it?

Ben Royce

@adam — there will be screen scraping, and you have to always be mindful of what you make public. That will never change. But it’s the private chats, the restricted chats to small groups like family friends, private connections, the entire list of your connections, all the pictures, and disclosures, your religion, your politics… the bulk of what makes you you, genuinely private, on DLT: you have granular control of what is disclosed to anyone else. If it’s private, it really is private, and really is only accessible to only you. It’s on the DLT with your key, not in some database at a company. Compare that to trusting facebook where all of that is in their silo, and is searched by and qualified by them for purposes which can be quite transgressive, and are getting worse.

adam

@Ben Royce — yeah, so I completely get that argument. You are not storing it with any corporation, shitty FB, or centralized database. You own the data. You encrypt it and nobody can read it. It’s yours. For me when it gets tricky is when people talk about “you own your data” but technically speaking you only own the data you will never share with anyone else. Even with private chats you don’t really own it because you don’t really know what tool the other person is using and how that data is accessed/cached. So for the general public it will more interesting if they know that data is stored in DLTs and also whatever tools they use it’ll be stored back to DLT (with them only be able to write there)… So I can take it and move to a different platform and I don’t have to worry about whenever the platform I used allows me to export all data. I think that’s a much better argument. When I read your website it kind of reads data will always stay in DLT.

adam

@Ben Royce — anyway, wanted to ask have you already built a prototype using IOTA Streams v2? or you guys are just starting on the project?

Bas

@adam — would “control your own data” sound better?
Including the control to give it away?

adam

Control your own data makes more sense to me. But hey, that might be just me… I know how every person can have a different opinion on this.

Ben Royce

Even with private chat you don't really own it because you don't really know what tool the other person is using and how those data accessed/cached.

Yeah but that’s totally different. Trusting your buddy vs trusting some nameless corp to strip mine your personal life. what is your buddy going to do? backstab you and destroy a friendship? ok. What is facebook going to do with ALL of your personal info, not just one interaction with one friend of yours? Totally different.

Bas

I agree with Ben

Ben Royce

control your own data make more sense to me . But hey, that might be just me…I know how every person can have different opinion on this

@adam — absolutely. What your saying is more accurate. I guess it comes down to advertising copy.

adam

Even with private chat you don't really own it because you don't really know what tool the other person is using and how those data accessed/cached.

Yeah but that’s totally different. Trusting your buddy vs trusting some nameless corp to strip mine your personal life. what is your buddy going to do? backstab you and destroy a friendship? ok. what is facebook going to do with ALL of your personal info, not just one interaction with one friend of yours? Totally different

@Ben Royce — oh yeah very different, agree. But I’m talking more about ppl that don’t understand the technology and not necessarily know that TOOL they’re using to access private chat could potentially share it to third party.

Bas

It’s not about keeping it to yourself, it’s about determining who has access. In a private conversation you intend your conversation partner to get the data; but not a third party that uses it to create a digital twin with ulterior motives.

Ben Royce

@adam — nothing we can ever say or do is going to change the attitude of people who don’t care. but some people do care. and, I think, that group is growing. I think people are more aware of and more disturbed by, how much a company like facebook knows about their lives, and we begin to hear about some of the transgressions (like Cambridge Analytica) that are only going to get worse. if some people are like “who cares show me my cat pictures” ok.

But that’s not everyone. I figure our appeal will be privacy sensitive people at first. and with luck that grows. we’ll see!

adam

Yeah, sounds like a good approach. It’s very interesting actually. You got certain countries i.e. Brazil where ppl share completely everything on FB — and don’t care (don’t understand, I know I’m generalizing sry)… then you go to some European countries and they don’t even want to use WhatsApp and are much aware of what they want to share with companies like FB. I’m not on FB and a lot of ppl around me going off the platform so there is definitely a great gap in the market.

Ben Royce

It’s a lot the same in the USA as in Brazil. But Europe: it’s the cultural and social center of IOTA for a reason. Europeans have GDPR. They’re just more sensitive about these topics, and god bless them for that. If society2 ever goes anywhere, it will be in Europe first. Privacy matters, period. But not everyone gets it and I’m afraid if there are no options, the abuses are going to get worse. Maybe then some others will notice and pay attention.

adam

to me FB these days not much different to freaking watching a soap opera on TV(edited).
It doesn’t even provide a value… I mean it’s value it’s completely out-weighted by all the negative things it does.

Ben Royce

@adam — but worse, people are feeding all their personal soap operas into a central DB that can be strip-mined with analysis and used for some freaky levels of manipulation. The value is that it is a drug. You have a social life, you need one, you’re human, but it’s gamified by this entity that just wants you more and more engaged. Soap operas, negative interaction: it keeps you engaged: “the medium is the message”.

adam

Absolutely. They have a full house of engineers making it addictive. It’s not much different from cigarettes unfortunately. I got to go… good chat!

Winston

I’m late to the chat here, but it’s important to remember that there are significant costs to privacy.
No UX rivals what the Silicon Valley and Chinese mega-corps have created.

Bas

It’s equally important to note that there are significant costs to a lack of privacy too.

Winston

Right, I assumed that was taken as a given after reading the perspective of the convo above. There are huge costs on both sides.

Bas

I was counterbalancing.

Winston

Yep. It’s so enjoyable to chat with open-minded/balanced people. Lots of people jump straight to ad hominems if counterpoints are brought up.

Bas

You are right that the UX is of importance. However that is not something unique to SV; it’s just that they’ve found a way to pay for that which OSS still has to find.

Winston

I think Asian UX has crushed SV. Agreed.
AliPay, etc

Ben Royce

We’re going to be open source. But we’re not going to be monks. We’ll have revenue streams. Enough $$$ to make something sexy, I hope.

Bas

I worked in advertising and hated it. I almost hated the methods they use too until I realized the things they use for bad can be used for good too. It’s just different buttons.

Winston

^^
Tools must be wielded by humans.
Ben, we could get the best of both worlds: Use an OSS solution for back-end privacy and posterity while letting anyone build UI on top of that
An OSS twitter or facebook backend that’s used by lots of competing overlying UI companies.
FB and Twitter would then be free to apply their algorithms, front-ends, collect data on their users who use their platforms, but now anybody could make a competing UI using the OSS backend.

Bas

In the most basic form it’s hormonal feedback loops; dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin. There are many ways to trigger them. They are not beholden to VC fueled donkeys with ice cones on their heads (“unicorns”).

Ben Royce

That’s the goal. The idea is we’ll start with a menu of social media site/ app templates. Anyone who owns an iota node can download one and run it unaltered. But, of course, customization will be how you stand out and win more eyeballs and more revenue. That site is now also open source and can be further refined by anyone else. So we won’t even build it. We’ll just get it started, and let free-market competition take off and grow it.

Winston

Have you gotten in touch with Jack Dorsey? He’s trying to build this exact thing with twitter.

Ben Royce

Have you gotten in touch with Jack Dorsey? He’s trying to build this exact thing with twtr

@Winston — joseph is all over it, their initiative is called blue sky. Even crazier (we didn’t do this, the reporter did): “Society2 hopes to deliver a decentralized social media framework working for Twitter” https://cointelegraph.com/news/iota-powers-new-decentralized-social-media-project
No! we did not say that! “Society2 hopes to deliver a decentralized social media framework working for Twitter” what???

Ben Royce

“Society2 hopes to deliver a decentralized social media framework working for Twitter” but it’s ok if it gets interest.

Bas

Hype! Vaporware!

Ben Royce

@Bas — exactly. But even better: you build the best dating app or job board, all the eyeballs and *revenue* go to you.

Winston

The assumption underlying DeSM success is that people running nodes will subsidize the cost to maintain the DeSM database.
This assumption doesn’t hold for something like a YouTube DB.
Something like twitter would potentially be small enough though.

Ben Royce

@Winston — if they are getting a revenue stream, that’s just the cost of business. but yeah the economics have to work out.

Winston

How would they get a revenue stream? Is this an additional assumption that the UI competitors would be running the nodes?
In that case, that would make more sense
So the UI company would be generating revenue from selling ads and collecting user data or selling subscriptions to use their platform. And they’d run an IOTA node to maintain the network on which they depend?

Ben Royce

We’re working on a number of these ideas but the simplest one: say you run a site that posts blogs about… gardening. Any ads you post the income can be split between the node owner and the author. Or maybe you don’t have ads and its pay-to-read. Or maybe it’s just a tip jar(edited)
“Collecting user data”: never. If we do anything against the central foundational selling point of privacy, we’re toast.
But if the USER wants to opt in to reveal SOME of their info in exchange for seeing ads and some ad revenue, sure. But it’s their choice. Not society2’s, not the node owners.

Winston

Yep, I understand what you guys are trying to do. My question is about the end-game of a totally open sourced and distributed social media back-end. If we grant that the idea takes off and becomes entrenched as the new paradigm, the question is how are the significant costs of server (node) upkeep serviced.

In such an ecosystem, extremely large global players will exist that provide supreme UX that will monetize by traditional means (collecting user data). People will opt into this. There will be other competing platforms that provide supreme privacy and monetize by subscriptions. People will also opt into this.

All of those competing platforms will be using the underlying information that’s kept and provided by nodes on an OSS network.

I have trouble picturing how Facebook 2.0 will pay a collection of node operators.

Instead of a co-op arrangement that shares revenues with distributed nodes, wouldn’t they just want to run their own nodes to support the network that’s vital to their business?

Ben Royce

The node owner runs the site/app. Some will be big and successful, some will be small and niche, some will fail. But if you’re worried about a behemoth gobbling up the competition: in a free market the nail salon across the street can steal your business by providing better nail care. Not true with the power company because high barrier to entry to open a new power plant. currently, there is a high barrier to entry, and you’re locked into facebook, there is nowhere else to go: its the power plant. But if your DID identity is supremely portable, and the behemoth is doing something you don’t like or failing in its ability to deliver the quality you came to expect, and the UX is open source and instantly duplicated, you go to the little guy who started up yesterday and he can be as big as the behemoth in no time: it’s the nail salon competition, low barrier to entry. so rather than facebook owning and sitting on you, the big guys are living in constant fear of abandonment and hyperfocus on quality to stay on top. A subversion of the usual power dynamic we are familiar with. suffice it to say, behemoths won’t just grow and stay that way, they’ll come and go.
True free-market competition, no locked-in oligopoly with low barriers to entry.

Winston

Ah thanks for the clarification. It’s exactly what I said above then — Facebook 2.0 will be running their own nodes

Ben Royce

Correct. Now if you ask me about the economics of mana and nodes and colored coins and such- no idea! but it should be a commodity eventually, like buying server time at a colocation or AWS/Azure.

Winston

And Facebook 2.0 is pumping the content that users generate into the IOTA network, using IOTA as their server. If a user doesn’t like how they’re treated at Facebook 2.0, they can go to HappyBook who has access to all of the user content that Facebook 2.0 has been pumping into the IOTA network, but has different privacy standards. And they would put their kids on KidsBook that specifically curates kid-friendly content from the content pushed to IOTA by HappyBook and Facebook 2.0
Users on a UI plugged into the DeSM would theoretically be able to interact with any other user on any other platform that uses that DeSM backend from the IOTA nodes

Ben Royce

Right, and because your DID is portable you’re not locked in. subversion of power. “I don’t like this nail salon I’m going across the street” vs “I hate facebook… sh** I have no other options and they own all my data and my profile and everything”

Winston

Very good

Ben Royce

You got the vision! now we just need to execute
(no small task, but we started)

Winston

Awesome! I’m always afraid to go to end-game talk like I did. With things this early, it’s just one tiny stepping stone at a time

Ben Royce

A voyage of a thousand miles starts with one step

Winston

But the end-game question is more important in this context than in others
Bc it’s not immediately clear that economic incentives would align such that the end-vision is even possible

Ben Royce

Well if we set up a number of revenue streams and ancillary streams and enable all of it and tie in with other IOTA projects… and the cost of business isn’t too much… then the economic answer (i hope) is the network effect. Spitballing you can imagine an economic landscape of 99% who make $0.01 and 1% make $100,000. It will be like YouTubers and all they are doing is ad revenue. Same aspirational model though: throw it all out there, see what sticks, and a few do quite well.

Winston

Love it

Winston

Only one way to find out, as they say
Let’s do a feature article focusing on DeSM and Society2 for HelloIOTA sometime.
Maybe an interview.

Bas

@Winston — also bear in mind that decentralization is not necessarily an endpoint; to me it’s a movement, or a spectrum. Enabling more choice between centralized and fully distributed. I think it’s naive to think centralized service will cease to exist. But with DeSM/DID you have a choice. And realizing you have a choice is the point where you can take control.

https://iota-untangled.com/why-decentralization-part-i/
^ This is my thinking

Winston

That’s a great way of looking at it, Bas. Everything is a spectrum. Thanks for the link.

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