Outlier Ventures Weekly Brief Issue #44 View Online

Know a talented software engineer that can make it Berlin for Diffusion? Make sure you claim our bounty for inviting them.

"We are writing to request that Facebook does not proceed with its plan to implement end-to-end encryption across its messaging services without ensuring that there is no reduction to user safety”

That quote is from an open letter sent to Mark Zuckerberg this week from the U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, acting US Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, and Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton. The whole letter is worth a read here, but I particularly want to focus on this bit:

“Security enhancements to the virtual world should not make us more vulnerable in the physical world. We must find a way to balance the need to secure data with public safety and the need for law enforcement to access the information they need to safeguard the public, investigate crimes, and prevent future criminal activity. Not doing so hinders our law enforcement agencies’ ability to stop criminals and abusers in their tracks.”

The thing is: they are right. We do need to find a way to balance data security with public protection. Sure, we know that so-called “backdoors” in encryption will let the bad guys in as well as the good guys. And frankly a few years ago I was strongly in the camp that strong encryption is out of the box now and we need to encrypt ‘all the things’. Certainly our vision of a privacy-preserving Internet is predicated of the widespread deployment of privacy technologies that encrypt information and limit the ability for anyone to censor the information. That’s good for the use cases we want to think about. But it’s also good for the use cases we don’t. The sorts of activities that Governments want to prevent like terrorism, also benefit from a privacy-presevering Internet. It might not be what anyone wants to hear but the networks we are building make it easier for criminals and terrorists to thrive. Personal privacy and public safety are trade-offs. It’s self-interest versus group-interest and Nozick versus Rawls. Complete personal privacy will weaken public safety. And more public safety will reduce personal privacy. These are trade-offs. 

It’s vital that we engage with these issues meaningfully and don’t just assume the Government are wrong and stupid because they don’t understand how encryption works. They understand perfectly (for the most part). But there are optimizing for public safety. The crypto industry is optimizing for personal privacy. It’s important that we acknowledge the downsides of what we are building instead of assuming the technology is neutral or that personal privacy will be good for everyone. This is a knotty issue and one which has strong arguments on both sides. I am personally of the view that privacy is a fundamental right, essential to autonomy and the protection of human dignity. But, that doesn’t mean that we should dismiss the arguments of those that are tasked to protect their citizens. Unlike the real world, in the digital world, the default is tracking and surveillance. We need tools to redress the balance. But in doing so, let’s not be naive, privacy for goodies is also privacy for baddies. And look this is the exact sort of thing we think about at Outlier and help the Stack think about. Supporting the development of an open data economy means much more than just building technologies. It's about thinking through the incentives and decision-making structures. But vitally it's about considering the cultural and ethical dimensions too.     

Watching: Stath Lets Flats
Re-reading: Protocols, Not Platforms: A Technological Approach to Free Speech
Listening: Where’s The Catch? James Blake, Andre 3000



From The Stack

  • Fetch.AI is ramping up towards its staking auctions launch. CEO Humayun Sheikh had an AMA earlier this week with Binance regarding what's on the team's immediate agenda - Link
  • Ocean Protocol's Trent and Alex hosted a monthly AMA addressing questions from the community on token economics, upcoming collaborations and their roadmap - Link
  • Sovrin continues to expand its network of stewards. New additions include the likes of R3, Keyless and Snapper - Link
  • Application forms are now open for access to Agoric's Testnet. Make sure you apply over the weekend! - Link 
  • Wish to know how Seed will be using blockchains for improving conversational AI? Watch this interview- Link
  • Chainlink has a virtual hackathon going on with $60k in prices. Know of a good real world application that can use smart contracts? Buidl away!- Link
What The Team Is Reading

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