Blockchain Ethics

Responses for Class 3 Readings

Hi all,

I didn’t see a new thread for the class 3 readings so I decided to start the discussion 0_0…

The video was phenomenal. Some of my favorites quotes include:

  • “you can’t get stabbed over TCP/IP”
  • “the only code worth making unstoppable is the code people are trying to stop”

Although he was making a quip, I really do believe he set the stage for an important discussion about the relativity of laws and that a “universal” platform fundamentally could not be subject to law. Implementing all laws would be impossible so no laws. Anarchy. However, on a more abstracted level, would blockchain simply be a reset of governance virtually if Andreas of Ethereum himself says “ok some governance, but be careful?” No the difference is that if blockchain is indeed accessible by everyone in the world it has the potential to unify under any regulating authority. Once again, though, regulation is not the goal and is a very tricky subject. Personally, I am a fan of the oops clause that wipes. And remember the oops clause is for major events. Other regulations in place like KYC or AML are circumvented by spoofign techniques like CoinJoin and P2P exchanges. So what can governments actually do? Or better yet, how do you actually stop malicious activity?

Well there are blockchain analysis firms, but they are kind of bs with the whole 3d printer analogy (Facebook’s Libra Masterplan). The government does have power to influence the public view of certain platforms as it is the case with the Dissenter web Browser. Gab has gained notoriety and when it was publicly revealed that a mass shooter was an avid user of Gab, all associations to Gab, including their browser, which wishes to invoke the Gan extension on a fork of Brave without BAT, were shamed and investments went down heavily. A similar case is with Mastadon, where the initial rise of the alternative Twitter was due to servers being dedicated to lolicon and other publicly shunned communities. Although the potential for unjustly alienated or ridiculed communities to find safe haven in these self-regulating servers, the stigma is still there. As such there is potential, but I think more influential choice could be to implement a more open-minded regulatory model (e,g one that didn’t rely on revealing all identities), one of which cryptocurrencies could buy into (me: 0 o 0 — you: -_-). This would also improve the rate of commerce (Libra’s Biggest Problem).

It was noted in the questions that Augur is or will be uncomfortable by unstoppable code (depending on your definition of the latter), and if this question is in reference to the asasination markets, then I think they are absolved of liability since someone bought the escape hatch function which makes certain markets invalid. However, this could devolve once again into Andreas’ discussion regarding “can’t” and “won’t” in a government context, seeing their selling of the function as negligence since their inability of regulating was a function of their own actions (0o0 again…). Personally, as a man of science I cannot see any scientific innovation without its misuses so a product being misused has no bearing on the creator as intent cannot properly be accessed anyways. I am all for relegating to a previous agreement as in web 2.0 platforms.

In regulation and code, though, they mentioned that a lot of the current architecture is blindly libertarian and that some studies have suggested that certain confinements/regulations have lead to innovation. Although I agree with this sentiment as many articles took the U.S. view of regulations, I still believe the implementation of a few regulations would be opening an entire can of unstoppable worms. Now I do want to mention that the government could buy into the approach that the “when the cookie meets the blockchain” proposes since most data collection is already available. Still, this would be temporary until all platforms accept the blockchain at which there will be no need for exchanges and other middlemen. Furthermore, it would be limited to nefarious characters who made online transactions, but then again it could expose a network (e.g. the identification of one nefarious character with the cluster intersection attack could lead to the monitoring via a blockchain analysis firm of his/her payments which may bring other characters to light as figuring out who to surveil becomes more clear).

Now the REP coin is an interesting idea because it incentivizes participation and adds a weighted component to bet making, but it is also subjective according to a Medium article on how to use a REP token since you can gain/ REP tokens by being on the right side of the debate. This goes back to the idea of relative morals. Yet, being right could be determined by the consensus of the REP community, in which a certain degree of democracy is introduced, but alienates minorities and the idea that you can buy reputation on the market kind of defeats my point about its benefits.

As for law enforcement framing, I agree with the idea of balance and the concern with warrants, but I would say warrants have a different purpose and if you want to protect against illegal web activities, then protection should be enacted on the web in possible forms I mentioned in previous paragraphs. The surveillance studies framing makes a lot of good points including the social impact on individualism and the political nature of such surveillance systems in the past (e.g. FBI surveillance of MLK). Personally, the price of freedom is too high for mass surveillance and any regulation via outlets mentioned before (shaping public view of platforms or cluster intersection attacks and jointly working with blockchain analysis firms) should be costly. I think that surveiling everyone because it is cheaper than finding someone to surveil is bogus and regulatory bodies need to look harder at available data. Blockchain currently works the way it does without KYC in the blockchain and data is still unknowingly collected by third party trackers, yet blockchain is still very enabling.

I chose to answer the question: How should blockchain developers consider their responsibility in creating unstoppable code? How does this compare to Web 2.0 platforms deflecting responsibility for content moderation?

My response reviews the parallels in the social media universe, poses some ethical questions for the decentralized world, and proposes responsibility to be in the hand of the users rather than the developers of blockchain systems

With the rise of social media there have been laws created to protect users and large social media conglomerates. CDA-230 essentially says that companies are not responsible for what is published on their platforms, and they can edit content as they see fit without any repercussion. The EU’s GDPR rule tries to manage data privacy and ownership on social media platforms, with the right to have content removed from an online platform for any citizen. In general, this deflection allows social media to still run a more flexible course than what media has had in the past regarding regulation. However, even so, large conglomerates have huge public policy and product teams that are catered to taking down and combating content that falls outside certain ethical lines. These controls address more extremist content around terrorism, child porn, trafficking, deaths, etc. So when we consider platforms such as Augur and Mastadon, should we be semi-regulating these unstoppable codes? The thing is that in normal social media you can retroactively address the problem. On the blockchain you would have to take proactive measures because real-time and retroactive controls would be less of an option. Would taking proactive measures to regulate go completely against the decentralized ethos of blockchain and unstoppable code? Yes. Is it ethical if a only a minimal percentage of decentralized projects are causing harm? TBD? What we are seeing today with most decentralized ledger and currency projects is that there is a tension between properties of pseudonymity and transparency as mentioned in the Libra reading. Can you have both and still achieve decentralization? Or maybe in order for developers to consider their responsibility we need to re-write the ethos of this industry around the extent to which we are “decentralized”. Given the sheer number of blockchain projects in the market, there is also probably a bit of a free-rider effect, given that no one wants to take responsibility or they think someone else will solve it. I think this is a result of many early adopters thinking that decentralization meant no discussion of governance at all. But I think there is a happy medium between governance parameters and running an open developer platform…similar to what we have in social media today…it represents freedom but there still is a screen against hurtful content. Though I think most would argue that social media isn’t regulated enough, so maybe in the end it is a slippery slope. Based on the Princeton University reading (When the cookie meets the blockchain), there seem to be alternative methods to shielding users from the negative inevitabilities of unstoppable code – instead of removing or fighting the content, maybe it is within the user’s discretion to opt-in to one of these solutions:

  • Governed digital finance system
  • Self-defense browser extensions
  • Opt to use merchants that mitigate unmonitored content

Maybe in a decentralized world, the responsibility of using systems is on the user, to block themselves from the depths of the dark internet.

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Responding to: How should blockchain developers consider their responsibility in creating unstoppable code? How does this compare to Web 2.0 platforms deflecting responsibility for content moderation?

This is a really significant issue for any use of permissionless blockchain in the future. Dominant web 2.0 platforms have received (or perhaps took) responsibility to moderate content. Simply, thy are the publishers of the content – Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, etc are responsible for the content on the sites. This is particularly true when monetization comes into play; banning a neo-nazi facebook group may be less important than block ads on their youtube channel. Conversely, Alphabet or Facebook might make a stand by refusing to take down a left-leaning political action group despite corporate interests pressuring them to do so. This is won’t.

On the other side of the web 3.0 world is can’t. Anton Antonopolis argues that if you’re diving into the world of unstoppable code, then you should not leave a backdoor to fork or moderate, because one day you might have to choose between using it and governing the system or being held responsible. The most concrete document to point back to here is the transition between web 1.0 and 2.0 when issues of intellectual property and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Safe harbor is a guarantee of safety – if you stay within a safe harbor there is no fear of action; the document clarifies though that outside of safe harbor does not necessitate danger, but security is not assured. In the DMCA there are four provisions for safe harbor:
-Transitory digital network communications

  • System caching
  • Information residing on systems or networks at the direction of users
  • Information location tools

There are a variety of things to latch onto here, but provision C may be most critical in its explicit bifurcation of liability between system admins and users. Most lawyers here will emphasis the users as the key of this provision, that they themselves are directing information or content. In this way, Pastebin can host Julian Assange’s insurance AES-256 encrypted archive key without fear of (strictly legal) backlash and Spideroak could host child pornography without concern over being taken down. But this provision gets confounded when the users are themselves the server owner. If you are owning and executing a server (decentralized or otherwise) and also posting content, you may be responsible for that content. This is a similar growing pain to Amazon’s market vs seller conundrum.

The answer here may be that there should be a new DMCA that considers the unique ownership and pseudonymity challenges of blockchain. Proof-of-work and proof-of-stake may handle these considerations very differently.