back to article People like convenience more than privacy – so no, blockchain will not 'decentralise the web'

In the same way it has become de rigueur to slag off Facebook for its many privacy sins while billions still dump their data into the service, it's also pretty trendy to pretend that blockchain, a digital ledger that records transactions publicly and permanently, offers answers to a new and improved decentralised web that leaves …

Creating services for ElReg readers

But nobody else will be on them.

Carry on slurping my data and advertising things to me that I've already bought - privacy is a small price to pay for convenience.

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Boffin

Spot on

"In other words, we value convenience (and, yes, centralisation) over privacy and security. We may say we don't, but our actions belie our statements."

Exactly ! Great to so see it put in the headline.

and security is diametrically opposed to convenience lower one when you raise the other.

Ultimately unless it's fully secure it's not secure.

Countries could run their own decentralised operations, connect to the likes of Google via a individual pipeline but something like that just introduces more problems.

What is frightening is when you hear that here in Australia people in authority are stating that surveys that find 50% of the young population think democracy is failing and want something different. With such a weak system open to abuse it could be catastrophic if a swift change actually occurred only to be opportuned by a group for their own interests.

We tend to look at our systems from our comfort zone and say well it's alright, not it could turn to crap very quickly.

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Re: Spot on

I don't think people value convenience or centralisation over privacy or security. The only thing people value is other people they want to talk to are on the same network and that happens by becoming a big name which requires money.

Signal is just as convenient to set up as WhatsApp, but most people choose WhatsApp because people they know use WhatsApp. WhatsApp wasn't secure before and it didn't matter, at the moment WhatsApp it is about as private and secure as Signal but that doesn't matter, and that might change again in the future and a few people might leave but not many.

Gmail is pretty inconvenient to use, but users put up with that because other people they know have a gmail address. It shouldn't make any difference as e-mail is an open protocol, but it does.

Countries could run their own decentralised operations, connect to the likes of Google via a individual pipeline but something like that just introduces more problems.

Open protocols and importing/exporting data. The only one that got there is e-mail. XMPP was sort of getting there but then Google pulled out when it had served their purpose.

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Re: Spot on

"The only thing people value is other people they want to talk to are on the same network"

I'm not convinced, nor am I convinced that people on Gmail prefer their friends to also use Gmail. People want to do social things - it's the things they do, and the people they do it with, that they care about. Services, not providers

I don't know, or care, what phone network my friends are on (or myself, without opening my phone and checking) - I can just call them, and interact the same whether they're on my network or not. If that was true for Facebook and Twitter (spoiler alert - it isn't) then people might talk about how their social or microblogging PROVIDER was better, but since they're talking to you on the same SERVICE, they (probably) won't be urging you to switch.

Incidentally, I much prefer Google+ to Facebook. It's so peaceful over here...

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Re: Spot on

The phone service provider is probably not a good analogy as they have interoperability; VHS vs Betamax might be closer. One might be technically better, but if all your mates are using the other, you can't swap tapes... The great benefit to me of Facebook Messenger over all the others to run the (non work) stuff I need to do is that there's a critical mass of the people I need to talk to on there, and there's a very low barrier to entry for anyone else joining the fun. If I have to start sending stuff out in WhatsApp, Instagram, Signal, Twitter... as well it just becomes too much to manage.

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Re: Spot on

"nor am I convinced that people on Gmail prefer their friends to also use Gmail"

The few people I know who still use GMail certainly don't care if others are using GMail or not. However, there are people (like myself) who don't use it that would strongly prefer that nobody did. It's a bit tiring to have to limit what I'm saying in an email because I know I'm sending it to a GMail account.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Spot on

It's a bit tiring to have to limit what I'm saying in an email because I know I'm sending it to a GMail account.

It's good practice to always limit what you say on the internet, including email/ GMail and any other medium which holds any data/metadata (El Reg included).

Security on the internet is temporary (next massive leak in unknown days), and if you have some info that is extremely important, you will not want it to be leaked/hacked/shared/stolen. So it is better to presume what you said on the internet is equal to what you said in a broadcast outside, encrypted or not. With that mindset, you will never say what you never wanted to be put out there.

[Self referencing comment. This comment is posted with the presumption that it could be broadcasted outside.]

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Re: Spot on

"It's good practice to always limit what you say on the interne"

Yes, but there's a matter of degrees here. If I'm sending an email to someone who uses a real email account, I limit what I say to a degree just in case someone intercepts it. If I'm sending email to someone with a GMail account, I know for a fact that it will be intercepted, so I must limit what I say to a much greater degree.

For example, if I'm emailing to a non-GMail friend, I'm willing to express personal opinions and preferences. Someone might intercept it, but they probably won't care about that stuff. If I'm emailing to a GMail friend, I'm not willing to do that, because Google.

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Re: Spot on

Ultimately unless it's fully secure it's not secure.

Sophomoric bullshit.

No non-trivial system is ever "fully secure". The phrase is essentially meaningless. The security of a system is the probability that it will behave as intended (itself a nebulous concept) by authorized users (another one). That probability can be reduced by accident, faults in the system, and malice; for the last category, security reduces to the economics of attack.

So for any non-degenerate case security can only asymptotically approach 1, and in fact because of the difficulties of defining "intended behavior" and "authorized users" (many of which will not be human but other systems to which we've delegated various functions), the goal can't even be defined with decent precision.

And so talking about "fully secure" or "perfect security", etc, is nonsense. You're appealing to a concept that isn't even theoretically sound, much less realizable in practice.

And thus by your formulation nothing is secure at all, and any discussion of security is irrelevant.

Treating security as a binary is pointless. Don't do it.

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Re: Spot on

People want to do social things - it's the things they do, and the people they do it with, that they care about. Services, not providers.

Not even services. People value accomplishing tasks (and opportunities, which are just imagined future accomplishments). It's economic: a user wants to do something at a low perceived cost.

The "perceived" there is critical - this is about behavioral economics, not naive rational-actor economics.

"Convenience" is just shorthand for minimizing opportunity cost (I don't want this task to take much time or effort) and cognitive load (I don't want to have to learn how to do something). Of course there are also psychological rewards for paying opportunity costs and cognitive load; that's why people play games and perform other ergodic (deliberately difficult) tasks. So it's not just a simple matter of always taking the path of least resistance.

But on the whole people make a largely subconscious calculation of cost and reward, based on perceptions that are very influenced by emotion, social influences, and past behavior. Matt's thesis is correct (mirabile dictu), but not because of an essential convenience / privacy dichotomy: it's because most users don't have sufficient mental investment in privacy to justify additional opportunity and cognitive costs.

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Re: Spot on

What makes you so sure that a "real email account" isn't a gmail one? I have several user@domain accounts which use gmail.

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Historic revisionism

I stopped reading when I got to those wildly inaccurate comments about "the early web". Oh dear.

However, on the subject of decentralisation, that's been an issue all along. Thinking of an easy reference, how about for example Eben Moglen's 2011 FOSDEM keynote? Sorry, the link is my blog comment: I don't have a link for his actual talk.

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Re: Historic revisionism

It's Matt Asay so 'nuff said really.

Decentralised isn't inherently safe or secure and possibly not even resilient. The blockchain does one thing, and one thing only, well and that's sign a transaction cryptographically.

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Re: Historic revisionism

I put it simply. Decentralized always has strings attached: usually in the form of slow transfers and bandwidth overhead. Otherwise, freenet would've taken off (it's still rather niche years later). You know what's the biggest obstacle to running a full-fat Bitcoin client now? Downloading the ledger, which can easily sap most data budgets.

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Facepalm

Re: Historic revisionism

Yes. And everyone knows there were no search engines before Google came around. Or "portals", even before that (there's one thing I don't need back...). And hush, nobody mention Archie...

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Re: Historic revisionism

Decentralized always has strings attached: usually in the form of slow transfers and bandwidth overhead.

I'm not sure this applies to the reasonably decentralised internet infrastructure. Although it's by design, signing a new transaction using the ledger of every other transaction so far is bound to be slow. But the fundamental problem with a distributed system is that it cannot be relied upon to secure itself.

The current series of Silicon Valley touches on this quite nicely in the episode "Inital Coin Offering".

The internet did a pretty good job of providing a set of reasonably trustworthy DNS servers while giving members the chance to run their own. It's just such a pity that it failed to do something similar for encryption, but that was more down to politics than anything else.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Historic revisionism

"And everyone knows there were no search engines before Google came around."

The point was most likely to use a name still around for most people to recognize. He should have added AltaVista to appease the old-timers :)

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Re: Historic revisionism

I could have forgiven the usage of "google" and glossing over earlier search engines.

A much bigger red flag was the role ascribed to Compuserve, that was wrong on so many levels it would need a whole bloomin' article to fix it.

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Re: Historic revisionism

@AC "He should have added AltaVista to appease the old-timers :)"

Well, for real old farts, he should have referenced WWWW or the 'World Wide Web Worm' which was linked to the start page of the Mosaic browser.

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Re: Historic revisionism

Yahoo! was important back then too. Not so much a search engine as a hand-maintained directory.

These youngsters should get their history right.

I seem to recall Compuserve being a parallel system with no Internet access. That was added relatively late when they became little more than a dial-up ISP.

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Re: Historic revisionism

The problem I notice is that the early internet wasn't exactly private and secure by design. It was decentralized in that you didn't have a few main backbones, but there were central authorities for how you got connected to it if you wanted to host, how you obtained your domain name for identification, what information you had to provide, etc. That doesn't really strike me as a problem, but if you want a network that works like the internet but is actually decentralized, the tor deep web is a lot closer to it than was the internet of the 1990s. Of course, the actual network infrastructure is still rather centralized, but almost nothing else is.

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Re: Historic revisionism

everyone knows there were no search engines before Google came around

To be fair, Matt didn't claim there weren't. He wrote "eventually". There were, indeed, books that listed popular websites, back when web-based search engines were few and far between - if memory serves, you could still find them after AltaVista came online.

The early web was indeed indexed by hand, in a text file distributed by CERN and maintained by TBL. There was also the NCSA list. The first real general-purpose web search engine was Lycos.

If you want to carp about what Matt left out, a more interesting case is Yahoo!, which originally had a human-curated web directory based on a new encyclopediac information model. (That model was largely the work of Srinija Srinivasan, who's been written out of most of the histories of Yahoo!.) Ultimately that was unsustainable and first algorithmic indexing in general, and then the GWiki duopoly in particular, beat it into the dust. But it was a more distinct attempt than the mid-1990s horde of web crawlers.

nobody mention Archie

Archie indexed FTP servers. Veronica indexed gopher servers. WAIS indexed WAIS servers, which were based on Z50.39. None were web indexes.

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I want centralisation

I want a single place I can see/put all my personal data. I want it protected and safeguarded. I want to see all the subscriptions, and to revoke those that no longer need access, or apply to revoke those that claim to have a processing need but which I care to dispute. I want it in the hands of an NGO, but one without corporate aspiration, funded by international agreement. I want it to be an internationally-recognized criminal offense to store anything but a reference to my data.

Since this isn't likely, I guess I'll make do with GDPR SAR/SDR and best endeavors.

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Re: I want centralisation

You can have all of that. Run your own server. With the prevalence of premade server images, it's not the voodoo to set up that it used to be.

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Re: I want centralisation

It's still all mumbo-jumbo to the Stupid User, and those are the people that need it the most since they catch everyone else without knowing it.

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Re: I want centralisation

Anne-Lise Pasch stated a need, I stated a way to meet that need. I never said that my solution was applicable to everyone in every circumstance.

That said, there are "appliance" servers you can buy right now to accomplish this, and even a "Stupid User" can set it up. You'd be employing money rather than skill, but such solutions exist.

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Re: I want centralisation

If that were true, why aren't they available at Walmart or Best Buy? AFAIK, they're still outside the Stupid User's scope, and that's important.

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eventually, to Google indexing

Re-writing history? Yes when there was only email, FTP, Gopher etc it was hard. Web sites made it easy. Altavista worked quite well (established 1995, realistically in use from 1996). Google was about two years later and not used so much till later still.

!

Now lots of people only use maybe two internet replacements of mailorder catalogues (eBay & Amazon). Most use one encyclopedia, one movie database and book database (both bought by Amazon). Maybe four main social media companies (Tencent, Facebook, Google, Twitter?)

!

Maybe five big Cloud providers (who are decentralised without blockchain!)

!

Blockchain and associated cryptocurrencies is a boon to money laundering and criminals, secondarily speculators. Banks don't need it. Secure private communication don't need it. Decentralisation doesn't need it (various peer to peer systems and distributed systems have existed without it). A serious problem is that it's not scaleable to large volumes of users and transactions.

Yet Google seems to think we want bookmarks, Pinterest, Wikipedia, YouTube, Google Books and paid results instead of search now.

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Stop

*If* the early web was "chaotic"

(and you have to agree it was ....)

Then the current web is more chaotic.

Suggesting the wrong direction of travel ....

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Hammers and nails

The Blockchain enthusiasts are just the latest in a very long line of groups who, having invented a hammer, think all problems are nails.

I'm sure I'm not alone in having experienced this attitude repeatedly in professional life (cue one of the last conversations with an engineering team at my former employer: "and we'll be using a new DB for this bit". Me "what, *another* DB type? That means the product has three different types of DB and multiple instances of each. Customers already think it's too complicated". Them "<shrug>" ).

Blockchain *may* be useful for low transaction rate applications where you need to guarantee zero deletion errors, but nothing else. And what happens when the code is no longer maintained and won't run on available hardware? Pity if the world had put, say, property transactions on it--.

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But the web is already decentralized

Facebook and the like certainly aren't, but they aren't "the web".

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Re: But the web is already decentralized

They may as well be for all the people that use it. Just as most any photocopier becomes a Xerox to the average layman.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: But the web is already decentralized

How is a webserver in a data center "decentralized"? Domain registration? SSL certificate authorities?

Asay and ironically TBL don't seem to understand how the Web works.

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Re: But the web is already decentralized

A web server isn't decentralized, but the web in the general sense is. There isn't a single entity that is serving all the web pages you can go to. If there were, that would be centralized.

The web is a collection of millions of servers, each stands as alone as they want to stand, and all users are interacting directly with the server that is providing the pages they're seeing.

That's decentralized.

Email works the same way.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: But the web is already decentralized

> There isn't a single entity that is serving all the web pages you can go to.

You're right. There's Amazon, Digital Ocean, Google, Facebook, and maybe even a few other entities serving 99.999% of web traffic.

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Re: But the web is already decentralized

"There's Amazon, Digital Ocean, Google, Facebook, and maybe even a few other entities serving 99.999% of web traffic."

You're measuring the wrong thing. That there are certain web sites that are more popular than others in no way takes away from the fact that the web is decentralized. It just means that some of the nodes in the web of sites are more popular, not that it's less of a web.

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Re: But the web is already decentralized

Lots of people are confused about what "the web" is. That doesn't actually change what it is, though. Just as the fact that lots of people think that the web and the internet are the same thing doesn't actually change the fact that the web is just one of many services running over the internet.

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This post has been deleted by its author

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Re: But the web is already decentralized

Yes, it does. As they say, history is written by the winners (and in this case, by the majority). Just as words change over time because more and more people adopt a different form of the word, so too can meaning, and slang becomes vernacular becomes adopted.

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What problem is this solving?

Before looking for a solution to the problem that everyone uses Google to find their way around the web, you need to ask why people use Google.

Nobody is required to use Google, other search engines exist, and you can type websites manually into the address bar.

People use Google because it works. Would a blockchain replace Google? No, but I suppose if you could run any other website on a blockchain, you could run Google on it.

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Anonymous Coward

EU sponsored the development of a Google search competitor: http://exalead.com/search

Guess what, the development was split between Germany and France research facilities. Germany backed off, it took France some more years but the web search engine worked great in the end. Guess what, bribery comes next and the web search engine was sold off cheap to Dassault (3D CAD software maker: CATIA) and turned to an enterprise search product.

Nevertheless, the web search engine, a competitor to Google search anno 2009, is still running, albeit not even linked from Dassault werbsite.

http://exalead.com/search

It was paid with our EU tax money, they should be forced to open source and release the code! And a community similar to Wikipedia should be formed to run the web search engine Exalead.

"Quaero" was the EU research and development program: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quaero

The end result was Exalead web search, sold for cheap to Dassault: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exalead

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Re: What problem is this solving?

For me, Google no longer works well.

Maybe it's because I don't have a Google account, but I've found the quality of my searches has severly declined over the past few years and Gapps are a massive battery drain, so I now use alternative search engines.

Where possible, I also use F-droid alternatives to replace many of the built-in Android apps (gallery, calendar, maps, email client, SMS). There's also Jottacloud and Posteo for cloud storage and email, and custom ROMs such as ViperOS, Ressurrection Remix or Lineage OS which work well without Gapps. Yalp store allows me to access play store apps such as VLC and Here maps.

It's a little bit of work but the gain in battery life alone is worth the effort.

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Re: What problem is this solving?

But what about if an app you need is root- and/or custom-aware, which an increasing number are?

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Meh

5kg of Cocaine

I prefer Privacy

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