Blockchain technology has made itself known with the ever-growing acceptance of Bitcoin, but it offers so much more than that. With the opportunity to cut out middle-men and decentralize any number of industries, its viability is far from fully realized. It can be used to help developing nations come into their own, or to empower the common man in a world run by banks. One already working application of blockchain technology offers an opportunity for a future without spam, where communication is trustless, private, and fully peer-to-peer: Bitmessage.
What Is It?
Bitmessage is a messaging protocol, described in their whitepaper as a “system that allows users to securely send and receive messages, and subscribe to broadcast messages using a trustless, decentralized, peer-to-peer protocol” (1). Setting out with the aim of making completely private, anonymous encrypted communication available for everyone – even those who may not be tech-savvy enough to use services like PGP – Bitmessage even improves on such services by not only encrypting messages between users, but masking their identities as well. This is achieved by using easily generable addresses, much like crypto wallet addresses. These are nameless, composed of random strings of letters and numbers, and can be created and destroyed at will. These public addresses, shared between users of Bitmessage, are used to verify the “identity” of the sender. In addition, since they are randomly generated, they wouldn’t be susceptible to targeted marketing and spam.
The Importance of Privacy
As with PGP, many have asked what the need for such privacy and anonymity if users have nothing to hide. For those with the desire for an in-depth explanation, I offer this academic paper by James Rachels of Cal Lutheran University. My short answer is actually a question in and of itself – at what point did we as a society stop fighting for privacy and independence and defeatedly agree that our privacy, a basic human right, could be forfeited as long as we weren’t doing anything wrong? On top of that, who decides right and wrong? In the overly litigious culture of the United States, backed by an enormous private industrial prison system, even those who think they’re doing nothing wrong could find themselves in front of a jury based on laws they are unaware of or do not understand. All of this aside, the point is not that you may or may not be guilty of some minor crime – it’s that you shouldn’t have to prove your innocence by giving up your privacy.
Other completely legal examples that warrant privacy could be simple messages between coworkers that require context to be appreciated. Your imagination can be used here. Alternatively, what if some aspect of your job requires discretion? What about messages between policemen, lawyers and clients, or doctors and patients? Should they give up the right to privacy if they aren’t doing anything wrong? There haven’t been any new laws concerning privacy since 1986, with the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (4), and if that comes as a surprise to you, it should. With the rapid progression of technology, laws to ensure our privacy should follow, but much like Bitcoin set to fix the issues presented by government-backed financial institutions who took advantage of the common man, Bitmessage is an opportunity to take matters into our own hands.
Slayer of Spam
In addition to Bitmessage’s function in regards to privacy comes the chance to see an end to the concept of spam. The obvious question here is, “How?” and the less obvious answer lies in our old friend, the mechanism of proof-of-work. Somewhat similar to the idea of proof-of-work used in mining, Bitmessage requires a comparable (though less strenuous) proof-of-work in order to send messages. It only takes around a minute or less, and doesn’t interfere with regular CPU usage; it’s hardly noticeable for the regular user. What this means for spammers however is that it “becomes a huge drain on computer resources and electricity” (6). This makes spam uneconomical for potential spammers and incentivizes users to keep messages succinct and with fewer attachments, keeping the network running fast and smooth.
As with any deeply ingrained institution, it would be naive to expect Bitmessage to replace email overnight, but the possibility is nothing to scoff at. Email providers are subject to the same kinds of flaws that many online services are – hacking, server issues, etc. On the other hand, Bitmessage is afforded the luxury of an expansive network thanks to its usage of proof-of-work, where users provide service to the network all throughout the world in return for its use. This means that, in addition to being decentralized, the only thing that could feasibly stop it from working is a complete lack of internet. There are no hassles as there are with email spam filters, or lost messages. Additionally, “Bitmessage sends receipts for messages, indicating that the receiver’s client has downloaded the message from the network”, (6) a service that cannot be provided with email.
For What It’s Worth
Bitmessage offers many features that cannot be offered by simple email clients. From increased privacy to protection from spam, it easily holds its own in comparison. Of course, the inertia of the common internet user will work against change initially, superior products always prevail, and I for one expect to see Bitmessage or the equivalent eventually replace email completely. Whether this means some sort of integration by an industry giant like Google or an altogether dethroning, change is surely coming. What has been proven time and time again is that in order for change to be effected tangibly we must take matters into our own hands; if you are reading this article it means you are already open-minded enough to adopt new ideas and technologies, so if you want to take the leap and begin using Bitmessage, please do so. Enjoy the spoils of technological advancement, free of spam.