400 million social media users are at risk of losing their right to communicate privately, due to a new law in India expected to go into effect in the coming weeks.
According to Bloomberg, companies including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok and WhatsApp will be forced to reveal their users’ identities if Indian government agencies ask them to. These companies will be required to keep their users’ records for at least 180 days, and respond to government requests within 72 hours.
India’s law is a travesty for privacy, and it shows that we need decentralized alternatives now more than ever.
As long as we continue to rely on the same social media and messaging services, we’re essentially handing over our personal data to centralized third parties, who are at the mercy of government leaders. These tech companies have little choice but to cooperate or risk fines or banishment from the country. Company executives must be acutely aware they face losing a massive amount of users and revenue if they don’t comply with the laws of a nation as populous and influential as India.
If we start shifting to decentralized alternatives, however, there is no third party for the government to request data from. If a decentralized service is working the way it should, user data is safe because it only exists between the sender and the recipient. Beyond decentralization, a social media or messaging platform must have two key features to effectively safeguard privacy and prevent government interference.
The first feature is metadata shredding. While many of today’s communications platforms are encrypted, they don’t protect metadata. Metadata is data about data; for example who sent a message, who received it, where it was sent from, and what time it was sent.
When metadata is collected and analyzed, it can reveal a lot about user behavior. With metadata shredding, however, this information is fully encrypted and fully obscured, preventing any third party from even knowing that a message was sent. Metadata shredding is how the blockchain-based messaging platform I created, xx network, is able to be fully private and anonymous.
The second key feature is user incentives. Users should be incentivized to run their own platforms and ultimately control their own data, so that they don’t have to rely on tech companies to do it for them.
Privacy should not be a fleeting thought. It should not be at the whims of governments or tech companies. The people of India deserve better. People everywhere deserve better. My hope is that we use the technology available to us as a global society to change the paradigm. The wheels are in motion, and as people realize their privacy and freedom are at stake, decentralized alternatives have the potential to become our new normal.
Our privacy is constantly under fire, and not just in India. Tech companies are notorious for being reckless when it comes to user privacy. Just last year, millions of Facebook records were exposed on public servers, and hundreds of millions of passwords were found stored in plain text. This carelessness, combined with governments’ increasing interest in our online activities, is cause for serious concern.
Dr. David Chaum is one of the earliest blockchain researchers and a world-renowned cryptographer and privacy advocate. Known as “The Godfather of Privacy,” Dr. Chaum first proposed a solution for protecting metadata with mix-cascade networks in 1979. In 1982, his dissertation at the University of California, Berkeley became the first known proposal of a blockchain protocol. Dr. Chaum went on to develop eCash, the first digital currency, and made numerous contributions to secure voting systems in the 1990s. Today, Dr. Chaum is the Founder of Elixxir, Praxxis, and the xx network, which combines his decades of research and contributions in the field of cryptography and privacy to deliver state-of-the-art blockchain solutions.