Never forget, never forgive: the dark side of blockchain

Going into 2020 we need to keep one idea in the forefront of our minds when it comes to blockchain, and really, the implementation of any newfangled technology.

No technology is inherently neutral. It always carries with it the inherent biases of those who use it. This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s not. It’s actually one of the most important and overlooked parts of all thought about technology. What are the people doing with it? Guns don’t kill people: people kill people. Yes, but guns greatly enhance the efficiency and probability of people killing people. Killing people with a knife is less efficient.

Let’s lighten it up.

The immutability function of the blockchain means that once data enters the chain, it’s there for good. The positive aspects are well documented—governments and corporations and private citizens have a trustless basis by which to do business—but the inverse is also true, because unlike Las Vegas, what happens on the blockchain, stays on the blockchain.

Neither forgive nor forget

Take a quick stroll around the internet and you’ll get an unhealthy dose of hatred and outrage. Someone’s always pissed off about something. Now raise your hand if you’ve ever tweeter or blogged or insta’d something you regret.


And the general consensus about the internet is that once you put it on social media, it’s there for good. Anyone can dig it up and use it against you at any time. That’s not entirely accurate. It’s possible for your internet data to be scrubbed—you can delete your Twitter and Facebook, close down your livejournal from 2001—and leave entirely. But if Jack Dorsey’s decentralized Twitter (for example) goes through, then whatever you say on said social media will be there forever.

I’m guessing you know who this guy is:

Kevin Hart, in case you didn’t actually know.

He was on the hot seat in 2018 for stupid things he tweeted back in 2010. Someone with a hate-on for Hart dug into his twitter to find something he wrote eight years before to use to batter him. It got me thinking about the blockchain, and specifically its immutability function. It’s a time-consuming exercise to dig up damning information on a rival on social media: you’ll need to either build a program that will sift through old posts searching for keywords, or spend hours doing it yourself. But with the blockchain, not so much. Everything that’s ever been put on it will be front and centre in the latest block, and if you said some stupid things on decentralized twitter back in 2020, and you want to run for office in 2050, then your political opponents won’t have to look far.

Now, social networking and my own future political aspirations aside, this has widespread ramifications for today rather than the future.

ISIS is on blockchain

Let’s take a sharp left turn away from Kevin Hart’s issues onto one of the wider, less talked about issues with blockchain. Given its open availability, it’s only a matter of time before this technology got co-opted by people who would use it for evil ends.

Organizations like ISIS thrive in anonymity, and blockchain provides it. They have been actively testing a blockchain-baed messaging application that would provide everything they require for survival—including a secure, anonymous communication, and a tamper-proof repository for their propaganda, and a means to transfer cryptocurrency assets anywhere in the world that cannot be countervailed by global intelligence agencies.

The app is called BCM, and it’s among a number of trials ISIS is engaged in using niche messaging platforms like TamTam, RocketChat, Riot and Hoop. But it’s the anonymous nature and encryption behind BCM that makes it suitable for terrorist organizations like ISIS, because it allows them to seamlessly communicate without fear of detection from law enforcement.

The app’s core features of anonymity, encryption, and large group-chat sizes also pose a great risk for adoption. Extremists covet technologies that can get their message out to thousands all while concealing their identity,” according to Brenna Smith, a researcher specializing in investigating disinformation and the illicit use of cryptocurrencies.

The group had previously used Telegram for their platform, because it offered terrorists high visibility but with few identifying characteristics, but that ended in November, when they were kicked off the platform by an international law enforcement operation led by the EU.

Identification marks on these networks are notoriously sparse. Telegram requires a phone number to register an account, but BCM requires nothing at all. The platform allows administrators to create groups of up to 100,000 people, and is widely available on both Google and Apple’s app stores.

The worth of a technology isn’t found in what we can do with it, but what use we find for it.

—Joseph Morton

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