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Television Mozilla Networking The Internet

HBO's 'Silicon Valley' Joins The Push For A Decentralized Web (ieee.org) 115

Tekla Perry writes: HBO's fictional Silicon Valley character Richard Hendricks sets out to reinvent the Internet into something decentralized. ["What if we used all those phones to build a massive network...we could build a completely decentralized version of our current Internet with no firewalls, no tolls, no government regulation, no spying. Information would be totally free in every sense of the word."] That sound a lot like what Brewster Kahle, Tim Berners-Lee, and Vint Cerf have been calling the decentralized web. Kahle tells IEEE Spectrum about how closely HBO's vision matches his own, and why he's happy to have this light shined on the movement.
In 2015 Kahle pointed out the current web isn't private. "People, corporations, countries can spy on what you are reading. And they do." But in a decentralized web, "the bits will be distributed -- across the net -- so no one can track the readers of a site from a single point or connection."

He tells IEEE Spectrum that though the idea is hard to execute, a lot of people are already working on it. "I recently talked to a couple of engineers working for Mozilla, and brought up the idea of decentralizing the web. They said, 'Oh, we have a group working on that, are you thinking about that as well?'"

HBO's 'Silicon Valley' Joins The Push For A Decentralized Web

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  • Looks like it's similar to bittorrent, that's also a de-centralized service.

    • by AvitarX ( 172628 )

      I was thinking freenet, does that exist still?

      • by lgw ( 121541 )

        I was thinking freenet, does that exist still?

        Freenet still exists, in some token way, but more importantly it works as a protocol. There might be some evolution of the concept that's better, no doubt. It's had a lot of security analysis over the years, and it's not terrible. But I'm not sure anything like it will ever have mass appeal.

        - Uploading is very anonymous, if you finish your upload before telling the world what it is. Great for something like wikileaks.

        - No way to force the "take down" of any content.

        - Downloading is less anonym

        • by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Saturday May 13, 2017 @03:23PM (#54411455)

          "no way to ensure your machine won't have parts of something disgusting and vile."

          This is intentional. Plausible denyability. Even if something is found your node, it's impossible to prove you had any knowledge of it.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 13, 2017 @03:59PM (#54411549)

            That won't stop you being arrested, your computers and devices seized forever and your reputation dragged through the mud. Your life will be made a living hell, your family will have to distance from your in order to have at least a faint hope at carrying on with their lives, and even if you're acquitted you will never, ever recover. Once a suspect pedo, always a pedo.

            • by lgw ( 121541 )

              The way Freenet supposedly works is that no one can really prove what's on a given node, or decrypt it "locally". How true that is is a matter for the security researchers, but it's not a foolish approach as you imply. It's just chunks of encrypted distributed data with the keys elsewhere.

          • This is intentional. Plausible denyability. Even if something is found your node, it's impossible to prove you had any knowledge of it.

            Yes, and you can explain that to your attorney while you sit in jail for a year awaiting trial for whatever it was they found. If you think that "plausible denyability" will keep your ass from going to prison, think again.

            If someone planted a pound of cocaine in your car's trunk and you really, truly didn't know about it, do you think the cops would let you go when you explained that, gee whiz, you didn't even know it was there?

            • by lgw ( 121541 )

              I'm not sure you understand the design of Freenet. If I upload a 2-minute video of hot Putin on Trump monkey love, that video won't be stored as a whole on anyone's machine (unless they've actually downloaded it as a client of the network). It will be broken into chucks, encrypted, and the chunks distributed across the network identified by their hashes. The keys are off in some metadata chunk somewhere else on the network. A Freenet node stores a bunch of fragments of encrypted files without the keys t

              • I'm not sure you understand the design of Freenet.

                I understand the design of Freenet, so put your doubts to rest.

                Regardless of what you said, and assuming for the moment that Freenet is wholly safe and anonymous and that no other mechanism exists for tracking your activity, I still wouldn't bet my freedom on it, not for one second.

                I can remember far too many instances where something that was touted as "totally anonymous and untrackable" turned out not to be. You could always test it by making serious, violent, non-stop threats against the president and t

                • by lgw ( 121541 )

                  Well, if you trust nothing,. there's really no point in discussing anything, is there? So why are you here?

                  • Well, if you trust nothing,. there's really no point in discussing anything, is there? So why are you here?

                    Because I don't trust you.

  • The internet (which is not the web, the web is built on top of the internet) *is* "decentralized". It was built that way.

    • No it is not. You still need a 'service provider'. That is the main problem, the weak link that can cut you off.

      • by grcumb ( 781340 )

        No it is not. You still need a 'service provider'. That is the main problem, the weak link that can cut you off.

        Strictly speaking, no you do not. All you need are a routable IP block and access to the network. But that doesn't imply what most people consider an ISP. You could, for example, easily establish a dedicated line to an IXP and buy transit straight from a provider. Or just piggyback on someone else's connection.

        I'm not suggesting that it's easy—or even remotely reasonable for grandad—but what I am suggesting is that there are other models open to exploitation besides the hierarchical, centralised

    • Re:Ummm.... (Score:5, Informative)

      by grumbel ( 592662 ) <grumbel+slashdot@gmail.com> on Saturday May 13, 2017 @02:04PM (#54411189) Homepage

      Some parts of the Internets infrastructure are decentralized, the network on the whole however heavily depends on central authorities. If you want an IP address, you have to ask a central authority. You want a DNS name, ask a central authority. Even when you want to connect your laptop to your phone you may need to ask your phone company for permission.

      With the Web it gets even worse, since almost everything people do on there is hosted on some big Google or Facebook server farm. In theory everybody could run their own Web and mail servers, but in reality everybody depends on centralized providers. Another problem with the Web is that all the addressing is location based, not content based. So you can't refer to a specific document, you can only refer to a storage location and whatever is stored there can change.

      There are attempts to build a decentralized content addressable network on top of the Internet, like Freenet, Maidsafe or IPFS, but so far none of them has reached critical mass. On the raw network side mesh networks are slowly gaining some traction and they might help with the whole need for an ISP, you just connect to the nearest phone or computer and hop on from there.

    • Partially decentralized. Economics is a factor: Fiber is expensive, so there are a lot of choke points.

  • Take a drink whenever Tim Berners-Lee is mentioned in the summary.

  • ...and ended up where we are here.

    You, the person reading this right now, is on Slashdot. According to Alexa, it's one of the top 5,500 most visited websites on the internet, so even despite its downturn of late, there's still millions of people who visit this website every month.

    Why are you all not on Usenet? You're all technical enough to download and configure Pan or Agent, and if your ISP doesn't provide Usenet access, a 5GB block on Blocknews costs $2.75 and will provide years of text-based discussion. There are plenty of technical categories, and plenty of them have actual users on them.

    But you're on Slashdot.

    You are here because millions of other people are here, and because not every NNTP server replicates every message, everywhere, ever. You are here because the value of information is determined by the person posting that information, and for some people, posting "you are all cows", "only luddites use nntp without apps", or "Fr33 V1@gra" is deemed valuable, while the vast majority of readers disagree. Spam filtering can only happen with someone deciding 'this is spam' and 'this is not spam', and boom, there is the beginning centralization.

    Why are you not on Retroshare?

    It has forum-like functions, email-like functions, IRC-like functions, and even Limewire-like functions and is 100% decentralized and relies on PGP keys for connectivity, so everything is encrypted.

    You're not on it because getting messages to proliferate is a problem, especially if you only have a few friends who aren't themselves connected. You're not on it because firewall configuration is a pain, even if you know how to port forward. You're not on it because 2/3 of the discussion is key exchanges, and the way many people get started is in the new users room which is, essentially, centralized. Or, maybe you are there...and hopefully you're not one of the people who post things in the forums which are actually-racist or providing bomb-making tutorials or degradingly sexually explicit.

    Even at that, what's to stop a TLA agency or RIAA lawyer from just being another user who's a part of the system? Decentralization combined with equal access invalidates the viability of the goal to minimize access by undesirable parties, as it's only a matter of time before "Joe Blough the dude who likes to discuss fishing and parasailing...who also happens to be in MI6" joins. Blocking government issues IP addresses is easy enough, but you're back to needing a central authority to provide that.

    Without the commons, a project never gets any traction. With the commons, we end up with Facebook, but without the filtering tools that keep it generally free of dick pics (or a means to at least hide them).

    No matter how you slice it, the network effect is inherently necessary to make an internet service work, and attaining critical mass of a decentralized (and presumably free/Free) communications platform is something that has yet to be done successfully. After all, you're not on Usenet or Retroshare. You're still on Slashdot.

    • Mesh sort of networks are great.......unless you happen to live next to Google and all your bandwidth gets chewed up by people visiting Google. As long as there are points of centralization that people want to visit (and there always will be, Google is merely an example), mesh networking won't work because it will cause havoc for the neighbors.
      • You can fix that for purely static content if you use shared cache system - Freenet and IPFS both use this approach. It works well, but it can't do much for dynamic content.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by slashdice ( 3722985 )
      Speak for yourself. I'm reading (and posting to) slashdot via an nntp gateway.
    • This is a Broadcast site. It is not intended for private communication. People post here to allow everyone to see what they wrote. The article author is not talking about broadcasting. It is talking about private intercourse. Communication between two consenting adults (or even children). This site is not the problem which needs to be fixed. But when you do want to talk to me or anyone else privately, I sure hope you don't do it through slashdot and then complain that there is no privacy.

      Please do not confu

  • Last year There was a conference on this subject. More at https://www.decentralizedweb.n... [decentralizedweb.net]

  • by Anonymous Coward

    no, i dont want to participate in a mesh network with my neighbors the pedophiles.

    nor do i want to have a "no rules" internet because what happens, like in "flat" hierachies of companies where there are no managers, is that the biggest asshole bully tends to gain power by abusing people.

    the modern world is built on rules. stop on red. dont go 100mph in a 30mph zone. dont shoot people in the face and steal all their shit.

    someone has to enforce those rules against the small percentage of people who are psycho

    • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

      "someone has to enforce those rules against the small percentage of people who are psychopaths - otherwise the psychopaths will literally murder millions of people."

      In a centralized system, the psychopaths end up in charge. Where they do murder millions and millions and millions of people.

      Decentralization is the future, because it's impossible to keep pyschopaths out of power in a centralized system.

      • In any system at all, "the psychopaths" tend to end up in charge. That is the default state of affairs: assholes take all the power and shit sucks for everyone else. It is possible for the rest of the people to fight back against that tendency though, and all the "systems" are just different approaches to doing that. They may have different strengths and weaknesses but they all depend ultimately on people actually using them. "Decentralization" (liberty and equality for all, instead of a few assholes holdin

        • But that's the hard problem: how do you govern without setting yourself up as a state, or else letting someone else get away with doing so?

          We could take it in turns to sort of act as a sort of executive officer for the week. All the decisions of that officer would have to be ratified at a special bi-weekly meeting by a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs, anything else requires a two-thirds majority.

    • Yes. It's all about you and your fear of everyone who isn't like you.

  • Assuming there was interest, and you were able to get the network up and running, it would have to be encrpyted to protect privacy. Then it would be considered a paradise for criminals by the media. If it wasn't encrypted, then it would be considered a paradise for data mining companies. Other companies would see the opportunity to offer route owners franchises and memberships to create sub-networks where they could mine all the data passing through, maybe even offer bonus points and discounts on other prod

  • We need an entity like Google to do this - they already have the infrastructure in place and the resources. However, a system based on privacy and providing everyone with anonymity would break their business model. I hope someone can get to Sergey Brin and Larry Page with the idea of how they could change the world in a good way by making a decentralized "Internet 2." Maybe they are rich enough to finally do the right thing instead of only talking about it.

  • by Rick Schumann ( 4662797 ) on Saturday May 13, 2017 @02:16PM (#54411235) Journal
    Let me tell you a little story about a group of people from a couple thousand years or so ago, called the Gnostics. [wikipedia.org] They had some interesting idea: that seeking true knowledge of the Universe around us was what God really wanted us to do. Furthermore their version of Christianity was, by definition, decentralized; there was to be no hierarchical structure to the Gnostic church, because the search for knowledge and truth was a very individualized thing, although you could of course share with others. The Gnostics were wiped out, to the last man, woman, and child, by the forerunners of modern Christianity. Why? Because the Gnostics, while very enlightened, threatened their centralized, hierarchical power base. So they all had to die.

    I'm not a religious person, but the point of the story is to illustrate a point about human nature: Most people want a hierarchical, centralized structure, for good or for ill. It, apparently, is just how we're wired. If you create something that's free-form, decentralized, some people will call that 'anarchistic', and some other people will insist that 'order' be imposed upon it, and they will take steps to make it centralized, over the objections of everyone else. We've seen this happen with the Internet, and with Bitcoin, as a couple examples.

    Furthermore: criminals are just as likely to want to impose some sort of 'order' on something that can benefit them as governments or any other group might. Stet?

    Here's what I believe would happen with a 'Free and open Internet 2p0', made up of a mesh volunteer networked nodes:
    • o Mesh Internet 2p0 is created, at first on a small scale: It works as intended. People are courteous and respectful of each other. There are no problems.
    • o Over time more people get involved. Inevitably, some people with criminal tendencies (illegal filesharing, pedophiles, low-level drug dealers (mostly marijuana), etc) begin to participate; Mesh Internet 1p0 begins to resemble Tor/Darkweb.
    • o Mesh Internet 1p0 begins to grow exponentially as the idea catches on, and the Dreamers and Disaffected from Internet 2p0 jump ship for Mesh Internet 1p0.
    • o The percentage of criminal types participating in the new network doesn't vary much, but the overall numbers of them increases proportionately. Much more Darkweb-like infrastructure (like Silk Road, for instance) is put into operation as criminal types become emboldened by this new untamed frontier. More hardcore criminal elements emerge in this new virtual landscape (murder for hire, human trafficking, etc)
    • o Law enforcement and government are now taking notice of this 'Darkweb 2p0'. The original intent of Mesh Internet 1p0 still exists, but it's thoroughly laced with the unwanted, unasked-for criminal elements that are now giving it the wrong sort of attention.
    • o Law enforcement reports to government about 'rampant criminal activity'. Arrests are made. Lawmakers set about the task of deciding to either shut down or regulate Mesh Internet 1p0.
    • o At this point it can go either way: Either Mesh Internet 1p0 gets outlawed, made illegal to participate in such a network, or it gets taken over completely by the government, who passes laws regulating it. If the latter, then a centralized authority is imposed upon Mesh Internet 1p0.
    • o At this point it's just as likely as not that Mesh Internet 1p0 gets integrated into Internet 2p0, or not. In either case it ceases to be 'decentralized'. Corprorations get invovled in what appears to be a new possible revenue stream.
    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      Except there are still Gnostics and there are still Tor nodes out there. Meanwhile, the mesh, unlike Tor would mean no ISP bill, and no constriction points where traffic can be watched.

      Tor developed a much stronger concentration of dissident and illegal activity because there is little compelling reason for most regular net traffic to use tor.

      • Tor relies on the existing Internet infrastructure to operate and isn't so widespread in it's use that anyone really bothers to try to regulate it -- but remember that Silk Road was shut down some time ago and I'm sure other Darknet sites like it have likewise been taken down. I stand by what I said.
        • by sjames ( 1099 )

          Yes, the silk road and a few other sites were attacked and taken down. I'm not claiming there will be no attempt to take down blatantly illegal operations (and a number of legal but inconvenient operations as well).

          But they would have a really hard time taking down a mesh network. For one, it's not illegal and could be considered a free speech issue. Two, it would be popular among people who are committing no crimes. It's utility for non-criminal use will be obvious to the common citizen. It would be way to

    • I'm not a religious person, but the point of the story is to illustrate a point about human nature: Most people want a hierarchical, centralized structure, for good or for ill. It, apparently, is just how we're wired.

      Actually, I don't think people as a whole desire a hierarchical, centralized structure, rather I believe it's those who seek power and control who eliminate any alternative power/governance systems as a necessary prerequisite to establishing their monopoly on power & control while removing them from the individual. This is often accomplished at least partially through ideological and religious propaganda and indoctrination so that the people view hierarchical, centralized structures as the norm with no

      • But while not all people are 'those who seek power and control', SOME people are 'those who seek power and control', and they've historically been successful at it, therefore I stand by my point as being valid.
        • LOLWUT!?

          Most people want a hierarchical, centralized structure

          SOME people are 'those who seek power and control'

          Sorry but these two statements of yours in context are contradictory.

          'Some people seeking power and control' is not the same as 'most people want a hierarchical, centralized structure'.


  • Try IPFS.

    It's not a decentralised web, but it's a good start. It has the potentially to completely decentralize all static content, and with pervasive caching that could greatly reduce network traffic and improve response times too.

  • The core of Richard's invention is his compression algorithm. Like warp drives and light sabers, it is tech which cannot work as described because of conflicts with well established theory. (Google "shannon information" for details). It doesn't hurt the story, stimulates the imagination, and once you get the joke improves the overall humor.

    A "decentralized Internet" is another joke, because IP was inherently decentralized in concept. That plays well with Richard's algorithm which effectively offers warp s

  • by Anonymous Coward

    People seem to engage in very black and white thinking about decentralising the Internet.

    On the one hand, you have a bunch of hopeless idealists who think it MUST work because it's THE RIGHT THING TO DO, without considering the potential negative aspects and pitfalls which will ultimately doom the endeavour.

    On the other hand, you have a bunch of pessimists who think it is doomed to fail because look at all those other systems and think of all those flaws, but who don't try to think of compromises that could

  • What's being developed in this show is being built and they are rather far along. Go to www.maidsafe.net to check the companies website and head over to the forum to ask any questions you have safenetforum.org.
  • ...but I would prefer no trolls.
  • It sounds like those are competing goals - if information is freely available then it cannot be private, if it's private then it cannot be free. Am I missing something?

I've looked at the listing, and it's right! -- Joel Halpern