Distributed Everything and the Surveillance State

A developer making censorship-resistant, pro-privacy web publishing stupid simple? Sounds good to me. https://www.gittip.com/evbogue/

Nothing as complex as crypto required, either.

See, it turns out that Google+ censors posts that contain the word “Bitcoin.” Mention the cryptocurrency, and what you write doesn’t show up in followers’ streams.

Same goes for Mailchimp. Run a mailing list? The minute you say “Bitcoin,” your mail gets “flagged” and you have to ask them for permission — manually, introducing a day’s delay as you convince them you’re legit — before the post goes out to your followers.

If you visit Singapore, blogging during your stay there is a recipe for getting your hosted email account hacked, and finding yourself being covertly interviewed by the local intelligence service.

(Fun fact: all that offshore money that’s being scared out of Cyprus and Switzerland appears to have ended up in that stability-ueber-alles Asian city-state.)

Ultimately the problem boils down to one of coffee. A stovetop espresso maker is distributed. Anyone can use it just about anywhere to make coffee. But it takes a little work.

Starbucks is centralized. Walk in, you get a cup made for you. The barista only has to push a button… no skill necessary. If Starbucks was a modern internet property, your coffee would be free as long as you watched an ad.

Only, if someone decided that ordering chocolate sprinkles and caramel on a latte was a threat to their established power base, that ovar-sugared concoction would cease being available to Starbucks aficionados. Only stovetop coffee types would be able to get their fix.

As it happens, the Internet has moved from a distributed system (eveyone runs their own websites and servers) to a centralized one (people use publishing services, hosted email, etc). In many respects this is simply a matter of convenience and time saving… but the tradeoffs are very real.

Like, oh, not being able to talk about B*tcoin.

Or, you know, finding out that hosted service funnels everything you do to the Nigerian Swindlers’ Alliance.

The solution is to spread the data out — decentralize it — so nobody can get access to all the information by asking just one person or company for it. And, for those of us who are way behind on server administration and web design, to start brushing up on our skills.

And frankly, that’s part of the problem. Because the last time I ran a server, Linux 2.4 was a big deal. Designing a website? Cripes, umm, what about a template or turnkey thing?

Not really recipes for high security or success in either case. And I’m a little more technically literate than the average hosted-service user.

The author in question seems to have a neat idea how to help solve this rather serious problem… by developing self-hostable web applications that make purdy web design much easier… yet without abstracting away all the nuts and bolts.

Which is something I think is worth supporting.



“In the beginning, the Internet was distributed.

My stovetop espresso maker is distributed.

In the beginning the Internet was distributed. Just like my stove top espresso maker.

Occasionally I go to Starbucks to get a cup of coffee. It’s easier this way. They have the coffee made for me. All I have to do is fork over $2.40 and they’ll hand me a cup of coffee.

If Starbucks was free, you’d get a cup of coffee with an advertisement on the side. And you’d go there more often.

Perhaps at the Starbucks of the future you’ll get a free coffee if you look at an advertisement for 30 seconds.

Starbucks is a centralized source of coffee. This means the system works the same everywhere you go. This is comfortable, because I know anywhere I am in the world. Whether I’m buying coffee in Toyko, New York City, or a suburb west of San Francisco I’ll get a very similar taste.

Not even five years ago, baristas in Starbucks pulled their own shots. But if you watch them do their work now, you’ll see this isn’t true anymore. A Starbucks barista is basically a button pusher. They choose which button to push, and push it. The drink comes out.

It takes zero skill to be a Starbucks barista. Sorry baristas, but it’s true.

Over the past five years, more and more people have started using the Internet like Starbucks. They’re all going to centralized sources for their cups of coffee.

You know the sources. You’re all on them. F***book. Shitter. To some extent Poogle Glus. When we think of the Internet, we think of these sources.[…]

When you use these services, you’re not even a button pushing Starbucks at Barista. You’re just ordering a free latte at hypothetical ad-sponsored Starbucks of the future. You’re not even pushing the button.You’re just a user.

So we have this generation of people who think using the Internet is typing into a box and pushing the send button on one of these centralized services.

Then this week the news comes to light that the biggest companies in America are also just funnels of information to America’s NSA. Nothing you do on them is secure or private.

These services are easy and free, but it’s also a double-edged sword because you’re essentially piping all of your private information straight to the United States government without them even needing a warrant.[…]

A year ago (late 2011/2012) I got very interested in this centralized/distributed problem. I’d been traveling around the world. First I went down to Mexico, and saw how free it is down there. I went back up to San Francisco, and I sold my iPhone in the Mission. I got $360 for it, at the time. iPhones were still hot shit back then. The extra inch hadn’t been added yet.

Then I caught a flight to Singapore.

At the time I was writing a lot, and I didn’t know anything about Singapore. So I figured, why not head over there? Little did I know that Singapore doesn’t have the same freedom of speech laws we take for granted in America.

In other words, you can get in big trouble in Singapore just for saying or writing something.A few weeks ago, this became even more clear to everyone with the Singaporean $30,000 blogging license story I read a few weeks ago.

I suspect at some point the Singapore intelligence agency may have hacked into my email while I was there (another IP was registering on my Gmail account). Also I believe I was interviewed by a Singaporean spy.

Reading all of this, you might think I was doing something wrong. I wasn’t. I was just a tourist in Singapore writing to the Internet every single day, because writing to the Internet every day was my job.

This, in Singapore, makes you a suspect.

After the encounter with the spy in Singapore, I decided to leave. I booked a flight to Tokyo and 24 hours later I felt a lot safer. Centralized vs Distributed

After my Singapore trip, I started to get really interested in the centralized vs distributed problem.

Over the next few months, I traveled from Tokyo to Berlin to Kansas City to Boulder, Co. Everywhere I was seeing this problem, everywhere this problem was a part of me.

I’d deleted my website, and was using Google+ as my main publishing space. This turned out to be a bad idea, because I was getting more into Bitcoin.

Bitcoin is apparently a keyword that gets your posts sorted out of the stream In Google+. In Google’s world, ‘Caturday’ posts go viral. Bitcoin posts don’t even show up in your follower’s streams.

But there’s no way to prove this, is there? Because Google+ is centralized. It’s also closed source. So there’s no way you can see what is getting sorted out, and what isn’t.

Six months later, I had this same problem in New York using Mailchimp’s Tiny Letter. This time, I knew I was being censored. I wrote a piece to my list of 1600 people at the time with the word Bitcoin in it. Five minutes later I had an email in my inbox saying my message had been flagged.

After a day of emailing back and forth with Tiny Letter, I managed to convince “Katherine” that Bitcoin was a technology used by hundreds of thousands of people on the Internet.

She let me send that one message, but told me I’d end up in the filter every single time if I ever used the word Bitcoin again.

So, being that I wanted to continue to send more emails, I stopped using the word Bitcoin in emails.[…]

So I’ve illustrated the problem. Now I want to talk about a few of the solutions I’ve discovered in the past few years of pulling my own shots.

CJDNS + Hyperboria. There are around 100 people living and working on another Internet called Hyperboria. It’s based on a mesh networking router called CJDNS. If you get someone to peer you in, you’ll discover another Internet that’s a whole lot freer than this one. Visit Project Meshnet
IRC. Everyone who wants to make sure their messages land use IRC as a backchannel now.
Duckduckgo. The search engine that gets you out of your filter bubble, and respects your privacy.
Pump.io. The creator of Identi.ca has a new federated social network called Pump. Visit him at e14n.com
Host your own web server. Get your own VPS (Digital Ocean is only $5 a month) and host your own web server. Deploy using Node.js using Bitters.

When in doubt, start by learning some Internet basics. HTML5 and CSS3 are a good start for anyone who’s never learned how to code. Then move on to JavaScript and the other favorite languages of the Internet.

We’re not going to get through this by pushing buttons on centralized services.

If you want to use the Internet in 2013, you need to pick up some tech skills. In a few years this will probably be all figured out and no one will be intercepting your iMessages.

Until then, let’s send everyone a strong message by deleting our accounts on centralized services and learning how to use the distributed Internet.

Visit my distributed website at http://evbogue.com/

If you liked this story, help me get to $499 a week on Gittip by July 31st 2013 so I can help build the distributed web.”

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