With the help of Derek Robertson
The last couple of weeks have been bleak for crypto.with the collapse of the leading stablecoin and a deepening downturn in the market for other digital assets.
But the story from China is a reminder that cryptocurrency is not just for investment. Increasingly, it also serves political purposes.
This is due to non-fungible tokens – unique digital assets, best known as ways to collect digital art.
Recently, NFTs have gained attention mostly because of the outrageous amounts these digital artworks cost, including a series of drawings of bored monkeys. receive regularly in online sales, at least until the market crashes.
But NFTs are essentially just entries on the blockchain containing unique data.
Because blockchains store information on a network of independent computers, there is no single party, such as a social network or web host, that can decide or be ordered to remove content. A meme posted on Reddit can be removed from Reddit, but the same meme – or metadata and links to it – published as an NFT on a blockchain network cannot be easily removed from the blockchain.
This attracted the attention of dissidents in China, where the ruling Communist Party growing control about online content in recent years.
Ahead of this year’s Winter Olympics, artist Badiucao, often referred to as China’s Banksy, has created a series of disruptive NFTs it reimagined the games’ marketing campaign with allusions to Beijing’s human rights abuses and the Chinese origins of Covid-19.
Since then, this technique has gained new adherents. weekend report in the Wall Street Journal. The article explores the use of NFTs to block Chinese censorship of a project called “Voices in April” that highlights the human cost of the country’s strict quarantine restrictions.
While censors regularly remove posts from Chinese social media platforms, they do not have the right to remove content from the blockchain network. Thus, Chinese Internet users smart enough to bypass government firewalls can access NFTs, which provide links to many different copies of the underlying media stored on servers outside of Beijing’s control.
As long as users are smart enough to bypass firewalls can also access established Western web platforms, Beijing has no qualms about putting pressure on Western authorities to deplatform dissident content. Blockchains aim to offer insurance against deplatforming of any kind.
In addition to NFT, dissidents use a tool called Arweave, which offers a permanent decentralized data store. One app built with this tool scanned the popular Chinese microblogging platform Weibo and proactively copying posts which are likely to be censored on the blockchain.
While these uses remain largely experimental and out of reach for most people in China, they illustrate the challenges blockchains pose for anyone who tries to exercise control over online information.
In the West, this technology may also have implications for the debate about censorship and moderation of online content, as it will be more difficult to remove material from the Internet. This means that lies, slander, or content that simply goes against the prevailing norms can be effectively blocked by the blockchain.
Blockchain enthusiasts are working on Web3 social media platforms that will limit the ability of social media companies to remove content deemed offensive, misleading or dangerous.
Before leaving Twitter to devote himself to bitcoin adoption, Jack Dorsey led the founding of Project Bluesky, a non-profit organization tasked with creating decentralized social media protocol.
It’s unclear exactly what form BlueSky will take, but other projects have already emerged that rely on the blockchain to ensure that what users write remains indelible. One of them is Mirror.XYZ, a writing platform that also uses Arweave to prevent attempts to remove content.
Blockchain grew out of a libertarian desire to avoid centralized control over information about money, but as people adapt its methods to all sorts of other information, techno-libertarians may end up getting even more than they bargained for.
In a domestic context, this is cause for celebration or mourning, depending on how you feel about the content moderation debate.
The UK is the latest country to place an order today. Clearview AI for delete all data it stores about its residents, another blow to the facial recognition software company. Australia, France, and Italy recently did the same, and earlier this month in the US, the company achieved settlement with ACLU which forbids it from selling its technology to private companies.
This is a series of big wins for civic libertarians and privacy advocates. But how do governments actually enforce these bans? Particularly in the US, where the government is much more lenient on data privacy than its European counterparts, transparency in data collection and storage can be lacking at best. How do we know that the data is not stored on some secret server, waiting for a more favorable regulatory environment, and can’t companies continue to use it against a court order?
i sent an email Omer Tene, technology partner of Goodwin Procter and former arbitrator of the US-EU Privacy Shield Agreement to ask this question. His answer is quite simple: it depends on the country, but the implicit threat of prosecution serves as a “whip” that may not need to be used to be effective.
Lucy Audibert, a lawyer and legal officer for Privacy International, put it more subtly: “Of course, we are never immune from someone in the company copying data to a hard drive and storing it somewhere,” she wrote in an email. . “But if they use it again in the future, at some point someone will find out – and the consequences could be dire.”
Audibert clarified that Clearview is unlikely to effectively execute the order because their data collection is so extensive and indiscriminate that it would be virtually impossible to weed out individuals in their database that belong to UK citizens: “This shows well why their business model is simply untenable,” she wrote. “The very essence of their activities is based on the violation of the privacy laws of several countries.”
So no, there are no UN-style inspectors checking Clearview’s servers for prohibited data – at least not yet. But as the volume and specificity of data collected by companies like Clearview continues to grow, there may be good reason for privacy hawks to seek it out. – Derek Robertson
Perhaps even more than the cryptocurrency itself, NFTs are a reflection of the principle that the only the true “value” of something is what someone is willing to pay.
Which makes it quite natural that the most famous (potential) politician who wholeheartedly supports them is Blake Masterssuper-free market protégé Peter Thiel and the hopeful Arizona Republican Senate, which released a limited edition of 99 NFTs to raise money for its campaign in March.
Masters is planning another NFT series for “May or June.” according to his campaign website (I emailed the campaign for a comment, but they didn’t respond by the time it was posted). This sale of 20,000 NFTs of varying value could not earn their buyers prizes such as exclusive access to the Discord campaign, campaign gifts, or even a signed copy of Zero to One, a launch guide written together by Masters and Thiel.
Incentives, pranks, and promises to nudge a candidate to a donor are a long-standing part of the American political tradition, but there’s something remarkable about the extent to which Masters’ NFTs gamify the process of contributing to a campaign. Prizes from the upcoming lineup are marked with bright letters “REGULAR”, “RARE” and “ULTRA RARE” on the Masters website, which looks more like an advertisement for Pokémon or sports cards than traditional campaign offers.
Which, of course, is speculated to be the idea – Masters has consistently ranked third behind his rivals in the Arizona primary and could garner both media attention and support from the influential world in chasing the NFT wave. The long primary season in Arizona doesn’t end with a vote until August 8, just like with Masters assistant Thiel. JD Vance in Ohio, don’t be surprised if the Masters can use the hype for an eventual victory in a heavily fractured field. – Derek Robertson
Ben Schrekinger writes for POLITICO on technology, finance and politics; he is a cryptocurrency investor.