Category: P2P

BitVote: Have a say in decisions that affect us all

DO YOU remember when the internet still spread hope? After its invention in the‘80s, we had access to a mass of information, sites such as Napster allowed us to share so-called “private property” easily and, most importantly, we could publish what we had to say ourselves – and people actually listened. It was participatory in nature, without much visible regulation from above. Nowadays, with net neutrality being at risk, mass surveillance and the threat of clamping down on copyright infringements as an excuse for censorship, the web often induces more fear than encouragement.

Narcolepsy sufferer Aaron Bale – mentored by “the internet’s own boy”, Aaron Swartz, and inspired by the success of the SOPA blackout in 2012, when 20 million people effectively stopped an anti-piracy bill – has come up with an idea to return some power to internet users: BitVote. He hopes his project will let us have some say again, without being completely overrun by the powers-that-be.

What is BitVote?

As a decentralised app operating on a BitCoin-like blockchain technology with a KeyValuePair store of data strings everyone can access, BitVote will add value to ideas without a human authority having to oversee the process. The coding will be completely transparent, so everyone can improve, build and analyse the tool as they wish. In the interest of, “I don’t agree with your opinion but I’ll fight for your right to speak it,” it’ll be completely neutral and compatible with all current systems as well as third-party add-ons.

How do I vote?

Votes will be measured in units we can all relate to: minutes, hours and days of our life. You’ll be able to choose a link (or create your own) to something you feel strongly about – say it’s the fight against Monsanto’s food monopoly. After pasting it into BitVote, you can dedicate an appropriate amount of token time to it. If you have 24 vote hours, you could use all 24 hours towards Stop Monsanto. But you could also, if you don’t care about the GMO giants as much, only use four hours (or one, two, five etc.) and save the rest for a different cause. Your vote will be recorded and your available hours will drop accordingly. The time-units are easy for everyone to grasp, yet they’ll provide multiple factors for analysis. What, for instance, is more important – many people spending small vote units on a cause or a few people spending large vote units on a cause?

Bale and BitVote coder Jasper den Ouden haven’t agreed whether all voters will accumulate vote hours from the day BitVote launches or from the day you were born, but the consensus is that the assigning of “vote currency” needs to be equal for all. Importantly, although vote hours will increase every 60 minutes of your life, they’ll gain value through scarcity. This means that those who don’t use the internet so often – the elderly, people living in rural areas or just generally less tech-savvy people – will actually have a stronger impact when things get heavy. Say something drastic happens and a president decides to go to war. The above-mentioned demographic might be motivated to vote and have more hours to spend than enthusiastic internet users who vote everyday.

Slacktivism

You might be thinking, how is this different to slacktivism? It’s just a bunch of symbolic hours after all; spent in a virtual system, via a click from your armchair. Bale realises that the vote hours won’t do anything as such. But what they will do, is show what people care about. If you’re fighting for a cause, you might feel more confident addressing it in the real world if you know 80% of BitVoters feel the same way as you. Ultimately – although BitVote can be used for a vast variety of reasons, from market research to activism – the system’s strength is perhaps that it could offer evidence of betrayal. If the Film and Publications Board South Africa says pre-publication censorship on the internet is what the majority wants, citizens could take to BitVote to prove the opposite. Whether a bunch of votes will actually stop officials from executing their plans is hard to imagine, yet – if the system really is widely used by technophiles and technophobes alike – it might be more powerful than a Twitter storm or liking causes on Facebook.

What about mob-votes?

A concern is that a mob of people, who might be very uneducated on the subject they’re voting on, could get together to cast a potentially dangerous vote. Imagine this was, “kill all homosexuals”. Bale tries to explain this problem with what he calls “The Zombie Example”. “If there’s a zombie apocalypse on the rise and 99.9% want to legalise cannibalism, authorities have the option not to act on this, and the population will thank them later. You can use common sense.” Moreover, it’s an alarm bell. If a large number of voters plan to kill homosexuals, he would try to physically intervene. He believes it probably won’t come to tyranny-of-the-majority votes though because of the way people interact online. “Not in close physical proximity, and anonymously. There’s trolling, but there’s not a lot of abuse of authority. The internet doesn’t kill people.”

Also, he explains, if a tyrant boss in an oppressive regime gets a 1000 of his employees to vote at gunpoint, these workers can cast a counter-vote anonymously to get “the asshole fired”. He adds that there are a lot of scams around and BitVote isn’t immune to them – but often people have ways to figure them out. An instant “vote bomb”, in this case a 1000 people voting for a dodgy cause at once, might spur some scepticism.

Location-aware votes

Although users will be completely anonymous by default, a positive aspect is perhaps that you’ll have the option to disclose your geographical location. Imagine the City of Cape Town decides to evict a group of people from their shacks, again claiming to have the interest of the people at heart. The majority, who are not being evicted from their homes, might vote for the eviction of the shack-dwellers because they don’t understand their conditions – thus providing the City with a plausible back-up to their statement. The affected community could, however, start a location-aware vote to show that everyone who lives in the area does not approve of the eviction.  In other words, the people at the river should have more authority to decide whether it’s polluted or not. Bale also points out that, because anyone can build an add-on tool, it’s easy to create filters. This might be useful if BitVote gets flooded with porn.

One-per-ID

As well-intentioned as BitVote may sound, if it wants be legitimate and effective, there can only be one user per real-world identity, which is difficult to prove without compromising anonymity. The geek word for this is Sybil security – a tricky problem many organisations are currently trying to solve. While none of them are perfect, the BitVote team members have some ideas. Options could involve “ID pools”, i.e. having users play a game simultaneously, or reputation systems. A lot of methods have loop holes and would be extremely costly though. According to Bale, so-called Sybil attacks, also called “sock puppeting”, are often of a “social nature”, meaning they don’t necessarily involve a lot of technical know-how. Therefore, Bale welcomes everyone to help solve this problem. If you’re a social orientated professional, such as a sociologist, political student, social-engineer hacker, activist, doctor, or just someone with a good idea, please contact him at arkbg1@gmail.com.

At this stage it’s unclear when BitVote will launch officially – funding still needs to be secured and Sybil security solved – but the team is working on getting a small scale system up and running soon. This will function as an invitation-only experiment for people whose identity has been verified in the real world.

Until then, we might not be sure of the project’s practical implications. But one thing Bale said might be valuable to keep in mind: “With BitVote the concept of authority is constantly changing. The ideas themselves will gain authority, not people.”

What do you think? Are you sceptical? How would you use BitVote?  

Please post your ideas, critiques and praise in the comment section – it’s a project everyone is encouraged to participate in. 

Text: Christine Hogg

 

TORRENT CRACKDOWN: Pirate Bay crew defiant on eve of landmark trial

STOCKLHOM – Hours away from their landmark criminal trial in Sweden, the men behind the world’s most notorious BitTorrent site are showing no sign of regret. Pirate flags flew above a scrapped bus from Stockholm’s public transport system. The bus was parked outside the National Museum of Science and Technology as a command center for the Pirate Bureau, a loosely organized network of activist youth. The Pirate Bay was one of their experimental projects, which then grew to become the world’s most famous file-sharing site, now run independently.

On Sunday this history of The Pirate Bay was flaunted in front of a large media crowd in a museum auditorium, while children discovered the play-friendly side of technology with their parents outside. The press conference was held the day before the scheduled opening of court proceedings against four individuals involved in running the site. One of the accused, libertarian cyber-hippy Gottfrid Svartholm, is known for the obnoxious e-mail answers he publicly gives to world’s highest paid law firms through the site.

He lived up to his defiant reputation Sunday, calling his prosecutor a “clown,” and saying he doubted that the prosecutor passed fifth-grade math. Svartholm seemed unconcerned about potential jail time, and financial damages that could wipe out his and his codefendants’ economic prospects for life. “I lost my web hosting firm, PRQ, as a result of this and have a lot of debt and live abroad now where I help poor people get on the net,” he said. “So they will get nothing.” He promised “to happily frame all collection letters and put them on the wall.” Peter Sunde, his well-mannered and likable co-defendant, said nothing is going to change, no matter what the outcome in court. Any judgment will be appealed by the losing side and it may take up to five years to reach the Swedish Supreme Court. In the meantime, he said, The Pirate Bay will be up and running. “We are four individuals on trial. But The Pirate Bay has its own life. It is not dependent on us as persons”.

The strongest impression from the pre-trial gathering was that something bigger was at stake here: Joining the two defendants were some of the key ideologues from the Pirate Bureau, led by Rasmus Fleischer, who is a well-known Swedish intellectual in his own right and a leader in the area where culture, arts, internet and digital network technology cross. The Pirate Bureau sees the trial as theater or spectacle and wishes to transform it into “good theater.” Hence a lot of activities are planned with their art bus as a center, parked close to the court house.

The pirates have been touring Europe with the bus, and had to drive it up from Belgrade in Serbia. In just a few days they collected the necessary 25.000 kronor (about $3.000) on the web to finance the trip. Experts at using the tools of the net, they coordinate decentralized reporting and activism on a site called Spectrial. In their mix of playfulness and revolutionary zeal three of Sweden’s largest media were banned from the press conference: “We do this on our free time and because we think it is fun. But we do not have an obligation to feed content to organizations that knowingly try to distort what we are doing and portray us as crooks”, said Sunde.

Source:http://blog.wired.com/27bstroke6/2009/02/pirate-bay-crew.html

NOTE: Last year, South African torrent site Bitfarm was forced to close due to pressure from digital rights management lobbyiests and the music industry. What do you think – should torrent sites be allowed or not?