Fixing Facebook, The Internet, Money, And Most Other Digital Stuff

Blockchains and other cryptographic protocols are useful for online payment processing and other digital exchange systems, and p2p protocols for decentralized or crowdsourced security validation are highly desirable features of a modern digital system of accounts. What I dislike about Bitcoin (the best-known blockchain implementation) is that it invites speculation just as if it were gold. A modern digital system of accounts is best served by a unit of account that is relatively free from intrinsic value and thus free from speculation.

My sense is that making a universal transaction accounting/auditing system (also known in distributed and p2p computing circles as a distributed ledger) part of a “native” internet protocol suite will make it more stable. If it is ubiquitous it becomes like air and people are less likely to speculate on air than on gold or bitcoins. Such a core Internet protocol would provide an automatic  “audit trail” of every applicable read and write transaction, including but not limited to every payment, that is posted.  Such a protocol could be used for many important applications:

  • intellectual property management, especially for individuals posting on blogs and social media
  • micro-payments such as those proposed by Jaron Lanier in Who Owns the Future
  • retail payment systems
  • international payment systems, exchanges, etc.

Because its use could become so ubiquitous it should be designed and built very openly and carefully by a large public institution such as W3C, or by open crowdsourcing — not by a lone entrepreneur or small shop. What I’m proposing is actually an upgrade to the internet protocol suite — the core internet protocols — that would maintain a link between every named resource and a metadata file. I’m not current enough on the tech to get more specific or detailed about the implementation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_protocol_suite

The innovation I suggest is to permanently and unbreakably link every named resource (or its URI) on the Internet to its own metadata file. I call that file the metadata “tail” or “fork”. Such a file might be a flat file, a structured database, a distributed hash table, an encrypted block chain, etc. — I leave that to better software engineers than me. The link between the named resource and its metadata tail must be unbreakable for the life of the resource and the metadata must be inviolable. The link should be maintained as deeply in the internet core protocols as possible. It may be possible to implement the metadata store itself at a considerably higher layer to allow for easier updates to the data store technology. After all I am probably advocating the creation of trillions of gigabytes of metadata here. A sort of audit trail of practically every read or write operation on the Internet.

Every resource’s metadata file would contain the following metadata:

1. At the minimum: creation date and author

2. Other optional metadata might include owner (if other than author), ownership rights, expiration date, etc.

3. History (audit trail) of every read, write, copy, payment, etc. transaction involving that resource.

We know that getting money is a means to getting many things of value, not that it IS value. And its fungible and persistent (durable) so its very handy and convenient. We’d be hard pressed to design money without this convenience, fungibility, and durability and still get people to use it. That’s the catch 22 for people hoping to solve ANYTHING by inventing new forms of money or non-money or whatever.

But we do have some serious problems with old forms of money. So I nominate (with tongue in cheek) dried fish as the new international standard unit of accounts. No, make that coconuts. Or barrels of oil. Or Bitcoins. or killoWatt hours (kWh) of electricity … Whatever we choose, if its a finite natural or virtual thing in limited supply people will rush to acquire it and if possible “corner” the supply. So maybe its best to use something in unlimited supply, such as plain, immaterial numbers. Oops, no, people have been speculating on “the numbers game” forever.

The more I think about all this the more I think my proposal to update the internet core protocols to add an “audit trail” of all transactions is the only solution to our problems —  with money, with accounting fraud, with social media content rights,  and with lots of other difficult problems  too numerous to mention at this point.

Poor Richard

PS My only innovation (if it is such at all) is placing the link to the metadata repositories deeply into the internet core protocol stack and applying the protocol to potentially all reads and writes on the Internet, not just financial transactions. It may also be innovative (or not) to propose individual and distributed metadata repositories, possibly using blockchain cryptography, rather than a common repository, for each and every named resource on the Internet. The main problem to overcome is the volume of metadata. The current Bitcoin blockchain would probably break under such volumes.

Related:

Further Discussion:

  • Poor Richard: Debates about money, accounting, credit, debt, etc. seem mostly anachronistic to me. What we should be more concerned with designing is the digital micropayment economy (protocol) proposed by Jaron Lanier in “Who Owns the Future” and which I try to imagine one approach to in my rough note  Fixing Facebook, the Internet, Money, and other stuff
  • Edouard Bry: Poor Richard, what about large purchases like a car, a house?
  • Edouard Bry: Poor Richard, that proposal negates anonymity. Personally I believe total lack of anonymity is not realistic from a human perspective. It’s OK conceptually but it does not take enough into account the need for some privacy most human beings have…
  • Poor Richard: An Internet-wide micropayment system can be used for all purchases, large or small, but at the small end it provides a unique service that Jaron Lanier explains in “Who Owns the Future” and related videos.  Thus far Lanier is not well-liked by many of the P2P, FOSS and “free culture” people. Lanier does not describe the implementation of the system, which is what I have tried to address. No one has yet proposed any specific user interface details, but the user interface would allow all internet users to make and receive payments of any size — but of special importance it would permit very tiny payments of fractions of a cent for comparably small services and goods like clicking a “Like” button or for posting or reading a facebook post.
  • Poor Richard: Edouard Bry, do you think Poor Richard is someone who would abandon anonymity? No. The application must include strong cryptography and access controls for varying degrees of privacy for different applications. Like block chains, a micro-payment protocol will be used by a wide variety of applications in addition to micro-payments. An Internet-wide micro-payment system can be used for all purchases, large or small, but at the small end it provides a unique service that Jaron Lanier explains in “Who Owns the Future” and related videos. http://youtu.be/cCvf2DZzKX0 So far Lanier is not well-liked by many of the P2P, FOSS and “free culture” people. Lanier does not describe the implementation of the system, which is what I have tried to address. No one has yet proposed any specific user interface details that I know of, but the user interface would allow all internet users to make and receive payments of any size — but of special importance, it would permit very tiny payments of fractions of a cent for comparably small services and goods like clicking a “Like” button or for posting or reading a facebook post.
  • Andrew Bransford Brown: I kind of agree, however, it is an incremental process. You might have a look at http://promiselanguage.blogspot.com It solves the payment part. The structure might also solve the “metadata” issue you are referring to. “Promise Language”
  • Bernd Nurnberger: Interesting. Not sure I can agree in light of this: “Silicon Valley megacorps have no interest in transparency. They don’t want to talk to reporters who would ask them real question about their for-profit surveillance business operations. Why would they risk it when they can fall back a trusted crisis PR technique: shut the doors, don’t pick up the phone, lie low for a while and wait for the storm to pass.” 

  • Poor Richard: Andrew, the applications, like payment processing, could be incremental, but it is fundamental to my idea that the various applications I mentioned would all share a common back end that I call an automatic audit trail protocol for the Internet core protocol stack.
  • Richard Saunders: A world citizens movement and ultimately world governance could be set in motion simply by updating the internet core protocols to allow for secure “voting” on nearly all internet content
  • Adam Lake: Richard Saunders, why not use a protocol like email for p2p social networking with all data on personal servers?

  • Richard Saunders: Search “p2p email”. I haven’t investigated any of them, but it seems like a good idea for us to adopt p2p versions of the apps we use. That’s a different level of interaction than the core internet protocols which everyone uses automatically by default. They don;t need to make any decision or choice about it. Everyone worldwide is already using a common set of digital “tools” to interact with the internet therefore building a worldwide movement by using those common tools is as much a no-brainer as possible. I suspect there are forces within the internet governance community that fear the idea of building secure voting technology into the core internet protocol suite because of the potential disruption of all the old vested interests and powers.

  • Marco Fioretti: “secure internet voting” cannot exist, period. It’s not even wrong.

    As for “p2p versions of the apps we use”, and just for general reference (I have NO time to work on it for free, you are all sincerely welcome to do it yourself, or find somebody else who can!) here is a faster, much simpler way to get something similar soon. An intermediate but IMO unavoidable step towards real “p2p versions of the apps we use”: http://per-cloud.com

  • Richard Saunders: @Marco Fioretti “secure internet voting” cannot exist

    Marco, is your objection to the word “secure”? I mean it only in a relative sense. If relatively secure financial transactions can exist, relatively secure voting can exist on the internet, can it not?

  • Marco Fioretti: “If relatively secure financial transactions can exist, relatively secure voting can exist on the internet, can it not?”

    No.

    Financial transactions are relatively secure only because if they go wrong someone surely notices it, often immediately, and comes asking for a refund or repetition. With internet voting, it’s impossible to realize that something bad happened. Unless it’s not secret, which would be so bad to be half disgusting half ridiculous.

    It’s absolutely impossible to guarantee that all software+hw combinations used for voting by people who by and large use their birth date as password or never update software etc… would be free of trojans, keyloggers and such. This has proved tolerable for making online payments only for the reason in the previous paragraph, it could never happen with voting. People who couldn’t be bothered to vote could even never notice that their computer was infected to vote on their behalf.

    If voting happens outside a safe place, there is no protection from abuse as in any variation of “vote now what I tell you and never tell anybody, or I’ll shoot you”

    etc etc. So no, relatively secure voting CANNOT exist on the internet. Period. Believe me I do NOT want to offend, but it makes me sad to see how many people who apparently thought of this for more than 2 minutes still propose Internet voting.

    And above all: WHY? Let’s assume just for the fun of discussion that all I’ve said doesn’t exist: what would be the REAL advantage of internet voting?

  • Richard Saunders: @Marco “what would be the REAL advantage of internet voting?

    I use the word “voting” broadly to include things such as “liking” and rating (+1, -2, etc.). Using an encrypted distributed ledger provides an audit trail. My point is that an encrypted distributed ledger (perhaps some type of “blockchain”) should become part of the core internet protocols. This would allow the world to rate any internet content or to “vote” in some fashion on everything. Security is always relative, so higher value data would need more protection, just as now.

  • Melvin Carvalho: …Using the new structured data layer of the web, contracts, governance, anything that an be modelled with data can be created. When you look at the web, try not to think of giant corporations controlling it, or locking it down, it was made for everyone to do anything they want. Any use case you can imagine with a block chain is doable on the dencentralized web.
  • Richard Saunders: Melvin, structured data and linked data are typically defined by triples: subject – predicate – object. This does not automatically constitute a strongly secure distributed ledger. If that is what one is after they still have to build that somehow. If we want to create a strongly secure distributed ledger, a bitcoin-style blockchain may not be the best route. BUT WHAT IS?
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