On today’s episode we’re going to be talking about a workshop in London for p2p projects, building a mesh network in Oakland, the Subspace p2p messaging protocol, p2p ridesharing kind of maybe allowed in San Diego, and last but certainly not least, Steve Dekorte joins the show to tell us about his work at voluntary.net.
Content for today’s episode was provided by John Light and Steve Dekorte
Text-to-speech courtesy of SpokenText.net
Music for today’s episode was “Curbside Killers” by Pskov
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With those announcements out of the way, let’s move on to the news.
FLOSS4P2P workshop in London
Londoners, people in the UK, travelers who love open source software and all things p2p – next month, a free 2-day workshop is being held on March 16th and 17th for people who are working on Free, Libre, Open Source Software projects for peer production and organization, with a focus on distributed platforms. From the p2pvalue.eu website:
“We know that the Internet was originally decentralized, with protocols and services built by hackers. However, with the arrival of the celebrated Web 2.0, centralization and corporations proprietary platforms seem to have taken over. Moreover, this centralized structure is used by governments to increase surveillance (following Snowden’s revelations), to blackout internet whenever it is needed (e.g. Egypt, Syria, or San Francisco’s BART) or to choke annoying activist organizations (such as Wikileaks).
On the other hand, in the last few years we have seen the emergence of Internet-enabled collaborative communities building shared libre/open resources. Commons-based Peer to Peer Production (CBPP) is rapidly growing: not just for software and encyclopedias, but also for information (OpenStreetMap, Wikihow), hardware (FabLabs, Open Source Ecology), accommodation (Couchsurfing) and currency (Bitcoin, Altcoins).
In the last few years, it has become clear to many that it is not enough to develop free/libre/open source (FLOSS) alternatives, but we also need to re-decentralize the Internet. Many initiatives are being undertaken under this premise (e.g. Ethereum, Diaspora, OwnCloud, MediaGoblin, Sandstorm). These new software tools may also be useful to boost CBPP communities further. In this workshop, we will gather those working around the decentralized FLOSS that could help Commons-based-peer-production/P2P communities. Hackers, academics, activists and interested stakeholders are welcome.”
Workshop organizers are welcoming proposals for lightening talks, show and tell presentations, and tutorials on various software tools that people are working on. If you’re interested in attending, you can find all of the details for the event, including registration information, in the link in the show notes.
Over in Oakland, California, the people of Sudomesh are working on their own project to decentralize the Internet with mesh networking technology. They just posted a blog post updating their effort to build out the backbone of their community wireless mesh network in Oakland, and report that they recently integrated the Babel protocol into their custom, open source Sudomesh firmware. So far, it works – they’ve got routers meshing and are now looking for more spots to post up their antennas. If you want to learn more about the Sudomesh project, contribute to the open source code, or financially support this free software and Internet freedom project, check out peoplesopen.net.
Another really interesting P2P project caught my attention recently, this one from the same crew that developed the Bitcoin Authenticator app, which, by the way, is shaping up to be a pretty solid multisig bitcoin wallet. Anyway, their new project is called “Subspace” which is billed as a P2P anonymous messaging protocol. The abstract on the GitHub page for the project says:
“A sketch of a store and forward network that can be used as an alternate communication channel for Bitcoin payments. Over the channel we should be able to anonymously send Bitcoin payments, payment requests, and even arbitrary messages. The idea is loosely based on Mike Hearn’s article ECDH in the Payment Protocol.”
I’m really looking forward to seeing this project completed, I think it could go a long way towards improving the privacy of bitcoin transactions and perhaps online messaging in general. More info about Bitcoin Authenticator and the Subspace project is linked in the show notes.
San Diego International Airport allows people to choose who picks them up and drops them off
The last story today comes to us by way of San Diego Councilman David Alvarez. He recently reported on Twitter that the City Council has approved allowing people to choose who can pick them up and drop them off from the airport. What’s that? You say you’re already allowed to choose who can pick you up and drop you off from the airport? Not so fast! You see, if your driver happens to be taking you to or from the airport with the assistance of a p2p ridesharing app like Uber, Lyft, or Sidecar, apparently that’s something that they need to ask for permission for first, despite the fact that these services are now regulated and classified as Transportation Network Companies by state law.
Councilman Alvarez linked to a PDF file which outlines the new pilot program that San Diego International Airport will be putting in place to allow these ridesharing services to operate in the area, and while the regulations that the pilot program puts in place are worth reading if it’s relevant to you, most interesting to me were the comments from both the Transportation Network Companies and the legacy transportation companies. Uber requests that the airport not restrict the number of vehicle and driver permits or adopt of a 60 – 90 day pilot period. Uber says, “A cap on permits will not only severely limit the effectiveness of Uber’s product by artificially lowering supply, but it will not give the Airport an accurate test period for how the market will operate.” Contrast this with the comments from the SDIA Ground Transportation Stakeholders, who “Support an airline pilot program that restricts the number of permits and sets a reasonable amount of time to fully assess the impact of TNC operations.”
First off, how can you fully assess the impact of a program that is fundamentally restricted? Second, I’m honestly wondering why this is even a discussion? Have you ever heard of any other businesses, besides maybe casinos in Las Vegas, which seem closely aligned with the local taxi cartel, that intentionally limit how their customers can travel to and from their location? When you have a business that places burdensome restrictions on their customers like this, that ought to be a sign that something is clearly, terribly out of order with the market in question. Ah, that’s right. This isn’t a market. It’s just another bureaucratic charlie foxtrot, which, to their credit, I guess, is finally catching up to the reality of p2p networked transportation services. Thanks, Councilmen Alvarez and the rest of the San Diego Council who approved this pilot program, and good luck to all the San Diego drivers. Hopefully this program is successful so that airport passengers have even more affordable and flexible options for getting to and from their final destination.
[John] I would like to welcome to Episode 13 of the P2P Connects Us podcast Steve Dekorte from voluntary.net. Steve, what does P2P mean to you?
[Steve] The potential for a more open and less coercive world.
[John] Where did the inspiration for the name “Voluntary.net come from?
[Steve] Chris Robinson had the domain voluntary.net and donated it to the project. As we are all share voluntarist leanings and they are a motivation for these projects, it seemed like a good fit.
[John] What is voluntary.net all about?
[Steve] Voluntary.net is a group of folks – currently Chris Robinson, Rich Collins, Adam Thorsen and I – that are building tools to help protect and enhance privacy and freedom with a focus on usability. Our current apps are Bitmarkets, Bitpost, TorBar and Crypt.
[John] What do each of your existing apps do?
[Steve] Bitmarkets is a anonymity protecting decentralized marketplace based on Bitcoin, Bitmessage and Tor.
Bitpost is a desktop client for the Bitmessage protocol. It supports email like messages to be sent which are private in the sense that it 1) hides the content of the communications 2) hides who is communicating with whom and 3) hides the physical location of the people communicating.
TorBar is an OSX menu bar app that runs a Tor relay in the background on (and only on) the wifi networks you choose when you are connected to them.
Crypt is a simple drag and drop file encryption app.
[John] That’s a pretty unique toolset, how did the idea for these projects come about?
[Steve] When I heard about NashX in 2013, it occurred to me that it didn’t need a 3rd party and one could build a decentralized market entirely on two party escrow without the need for 3rd party escrow or a ratings system. I decided to work on one when my consulting contract finished.
Around that time Chris Robinson ran across my tweets on bitcoin and asked me if I knew any open source bitcoin projects looking for a designer. Chris was excited about the Bitmarkets concept and we agreed to work on it together, starting with a Bitmessage client (Bitpost) to test the decentralized communication system that would be needed for the marketplace.
We started work on Bitpost in Feb 2014 and, with Adam Thorsen’s help, had working version out in a few months. We then started work on Bitmarkets with Rich Collins joining to implement the multisig Bitcoin wallet. In May we had a working alpha that we showed off to fellow attendees at the Bitcoin 2014 conference in Amsterdam and released a public beta in November.
[John] Bitmessage is an interesting protocol choice for the Bitmarkets application and makes Bitmarkets one of the more interesting Bitmessage apps I’ve seen. In Episode 9 I shared a blog post written by Kristov Atlas about how the Bitmessage community is looking for someone to do a security review of the software and help with scalability challenges. As a developer who is used to working with Bitmessage, what is your opinion of the security and scalability of the software?
[Steve] Yes, it would be nice to see all of these new protocols audited. I don’t think any of them use a well audited protocol at the moment.
Because this seems to be widely misunderstood, the first thing to mention is that Bitmessage does not use a block chain. It only shares Bitcoin’s encryption and address standards, as well as a similar means of interconnecting and communicating between peers.
I choose Bitmessage because:
1) the protocol and implementation are relatively simple
2) it was being actively used and not just an academic paper or unused library
3) it solves the spam problem (via proof of work) that the alternatives didn’t address
4) it supported and had standards for both person to person and person to public channel communications
With respect to scalability, Bitmessage has a stream system (though I don’t know if it’s implemented) that shares some properties with DHTs. However, I don’t think Bitmessage needs to scale to the kind of traffic that AIM, Twitter or FB sees to be useful. For our purposes, we only need to support the relatively modest data requirements of a Craigslist or eBay. And if other Bitmessage traffic becomes a problem, we can raise the proof of work requirements on our nodes.
That said, we’re open to migrate to better solutions if we find them.
[John] Other p2p markets like Bitsquare, Coinffeine, and Open Bazaar use DHT as the underlying p2p communication layer instead of Bitmessage. Is there a technical advantage that you see to using Bitmessage as opposed to other p2p communication technology?
[Steve] The main one is that Bitmessage solves the spam problem. For example, what if someone writes a script that continually dumps terabytes of random data into a DHT? You need a system that doesn’t collapse under such simple attacks.
[John] Can you explain more about how this two party escrow system works, and what the UX for a dispute resolution process would be like without a 3rd party?
[Steve] Using the client, a buyer and seller lock the payment and mutual security deposits into a multisig bitcoin transaction which neither can spend until both agree on how it is spent, either by 1) refunding the deposits and paying the seller 2) refunding the deposits and the buyer. If they can never agree on which of these should occur, both effectively lose their deposits as well as the buyer losing their payment if they never received an item or the seller losing their item if it was sent. This ensures that at all times, both parties will come out worse by trying to defraud the other and any consistently malicious marketplace participant will quickly go bankrupt.
[John] It seems the only way to attack the system is to economically DDoS it by scamming a lot of people to shake confidence in the system, while burning a ton of money in the process. Unfortunately, there are some entities that control vast resources and are fine with burning through them to “watch the world burn,” so to speak. Is this a problem? And if it is, for people who don’t want to chance an encounter with such an entity, is a three party 2-of-3 multisig escrow option available?
[Steve] DDoS scamming by burning money is a potential problem but 2-of-3 escrow doesn’t solve it unless you assume your escrow agent isn’t part of the attack which you can never be sure of in an anonymous system. Trust systems attempt to solve this problem but I’m not aware of any that aren’t easily game-able.
As Nick Szabo put it (referring to the game theory that 2 party escrow relies on)
“Game theory is very weak as a security model, but on the internet is probably superior to reputation, and certainly to assuming trusted third parties.”
An interesting effect of money burning attacks is that burning bitcoin increases the value of all remaining bitcoin via deflation. So an attacking government would only be transferring wealth from the government and the individuals attacked, to all other parties holding bitcoin. Effectively a handout to all other market participants.
The other problem with 2 of 3 systems is that if the other two parties are the same person or choose to conspire against you, you loose your funds without any cost to the other parties. With two party escrow, incentives are always aligned for proper behavior as neither party can defraud the other without harming themselves.
[John] Those are good points, good quote from Nick Szabo too. I read the post you wrote on n-o-d-e.net about the P2P virtual reality project Sanctuary, which I thought was very interesting and recommend that listeners read for a deeper understanding of what we’re talking about. How did the idea for this project come about, and is this actually software that is being developed right now?
[Steve] Sanctuary, a decentralized VR world, is Chris’s project. He’s been developing some great design concepts for it and asked me for suggestions on how one might implement it in a decentralized way. I put together a rough spec of how Namecoin could be used for persistent changes (property, large structure descriptions and user accounts) and a side network of client nodes could be used for real time, verifiable avatar updates. I’d like to put together a prototype at some point but it’s a probably a larger project than Voluntary has time to implement unless there was a source of funding or a community of contributing developers and designers.
[John] Is there any place people can go online to learn more about Sanctuary and get involved, either as a designer, code contributor, or a financial supporter?
[Steve] Chris recommends following the Distributed VR subreddit: http://reddit.com/r/DistributedVR/
[John] So what’s next for Voluntary.net? Are you looking for any help on these projects, and if so, what do you need help with and what’s the best way for people to get involved?
[Steve] We’d like to port Bitmarkets to Windows and Linux using GNUstep next and have a few ideas for significant new Bitmarkets features. The next major project we’re interested in is a P2P social network of some kind.
We’d welcome any help, particularly with development, tutorial and intro videos, and marketing. Contacting email@example.com is a good way to get started.
[John] Awesome, well thank you for taking the time to do this interview and good luck with your projects.
[Steve] Thank you, John.