Crypto leaders worry over threat from ‘big tech’ censorship

A change to WhatsApp’s terms of service has triggered a mass exodus from the messaging platform to more private and independent rivals like Telegram and Signal, which have registered millions of new users over the last week. 

Rather than agreeing to new terms specifying the app’s right to share user data with Facebook, millions of WhatsApp users simply gave up using the platform, abandoning it for less-intrusive competitors. Telegram alone has been downloaded 25 million times in the last 72 hours.

Some of those new sign-ups include refugees from the free speech platform Parler, looking for a way to connect and organize after the right-wing Twitter alternative was suddenly yanked offline by hosting services provider Amazon Web Services (AWS).

The ability of web hosting giants like AWS to unilaterally close down sites and infrastructure has some in the cryptocurrency industry worried for the future health of blockchain-related projects.

Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin described Parler’s takedown as “very worrying” in a series of tweets, noting that AWS was much more of a “common infrastructure provider” than a social media site. Buterin also expressed a certain level of dismay over Twitter’s decision to permanently ban President Donald Trump from its platform:

“The fact that so many people who would normally never support such corporate power are now cheering tech CEOs running roughshod over democratically elected officials deserves some introspection…”

In the past, estimates have suggested that around 60% of Ethereum nodes run on AWS.

EOS and Bitshares co-founder Daniel Larimer recently called for the mass abandonment of big social media platforms prior to the takedown of Parler. He correctly predicted that it may have been the “last chance” to download certain social media apps. Larimer recently quit his position as CTO at EOSIO developers block.one, vowing to work on censorship-resistant platforms which he believes will become increasingly important as more people find themselves banned or suspended from traditional platforms.

Other crypto projects are wary of the centralized nature of tech giants like Amazon and anticipate problems relying upon them. The decentralized liquidity network THORChain, for example, incentivizes nodes running its software to avoid AWS by awarding them extra perks for using alternative service providers.

Decentralized solutions providers, like domain name server Handshake, are censorship-resistant in that they avoid reliance on classical processes for domain name resolution. Pirate academic journal archivists Sci-Hub switched DNS providers using Handshake, as mentioned by Buterin.

Censorship concerns aren’t the only reason why reliance on a single hosting service provider poses risks to crypto-based services. In November, AWS outages affected Coinbase, causing users to have problems logging in to and navigating their accounts.

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