Blockchain goes far beyond cryptocurrencies. Decentralized messengers can crucially charge the way we use internet.
“Everything that we do now lasts forever, not because we want to remember but because we’re no longer allowed to forget. Helping to create that system is my greatest regret,” former CIA agent Edward Snowden once said.
Of course, he meant our internet activity and the way big tech companies/governments treat users’ personal data.
We kind of used to live along with Cambridge Analytica scandals, permanent hacker attacks, illegal confident data storage, government-required backdoors in popular media platforms, etc.
This isn’t cool, but the only 100% chance to be safe on the web is simply to use it less and don’t leave there any personal data.
But technology is here to come. And some even believe new ways of messaging can make us free of big brother’s eyes. Thanks to blockchain messaging or decentralized messengers, a new technology many of us haven’t heard yet.
Centralized versus decentralized messaging
The problem with personal data thefts and vulnerable info leaks lies in the fact that all popular solutions for digital communications are centralized.
It means that companies owning any big media platform can gather, store and use your data. Actually, your data is a big part of their business, as they need to sell ads.
The main issue of this centralized model is that you can’t be sure about your data safety anymore. It still a chance that in the future somebody can steal your messages, media, or any other data uploaded by you many years ago.
To tackle this problem some enthusiasts came up with the decentralization concept. Yes, a similar one made the basis for digital assets and most crypto appliances.
So here it is – decentralized messaging.
What are decentralized messengers?
Some of the first decentralized messenger concepts started evolving a few years ago. When the web-privacy was the top world discussion.
Today you can find at least a dozen of so-called decentralized messaging apps. The main goal of these apps is to provide encrypted p2p-messaging.
Technically, some private-considered messengers like Signal or Telegram are also encrypting your p2p-chats. But they aren’t decentralized, as their servers can theoretically be compromised and decoded by a powerful computer. Or if the owners of the service will voluntarily decide to cooperate with some external force.
Instead, decentralized blockchain messengers are about encrypting every message as a transaction.
In theory no one can gain access to it and the network itself maintains such messaging process. You can trust this idea just because you are already using crypto, right? If you trust blockchain to store your money, why can’t you trust it with your messages.
Still, there are a lot of problems to solve. Like decentralized messengers functionality and operational flexibility, transactional fees, or long-term development. This apps still have a long way to go until they reach the level of usability of today’s most popular messangers such as WhatsApp or Telegram.
But some interesting projects are already here.
How does decentralized blockchain messaging work?
Decentralized messaging can be implemented with different types of distributed ledgers.
But the basic general concept is like this: a special type of blockchain transaction makes encrypts and sends your message, giving you its delivery confirmation.
ADAMANT decentralized messenger developers explain that the network should go through several stages to send a message within the blockchain.
These stages are:
- Encrypt the message text;
- put the ciphertext into the transaction;
- sign transaction;
- send the transaction to a node;
- determine the message authenticity;
- including the transaction in the next block;
- retrieving the transaction and decrypting the message.
“The message is encrypted with the sender’s private key and the recipient’s public key. We take the public key from the network, but for this, the recipient’s account must be initialized, that is, have at least one transaction,” former ADAMANT Q&A-tester Elena Andreeva wrote.
Validation and reading in the decentralized messengers
Different consensus mechanisms based on blockchain nodes system can therefore identify and determine message transactions.
So the network knows the sender and the recipient, the message sending time, and its authenticity. Such a mechanism practically excludes the opportunity to forge data and content inside the transaction message.
The nodes are checking transaction readability, comparing the initial data, etc. If everything went well – the transaction is added to the next block with other validated transactions.
Then it comes to receiving the transactions and encrypting the message. The fact is all the transactions inside the blockchain decentralized messengers can be available to every user. But only the recipient can decrypt it with his private key and the public key of the sender.
Some developing blockchain messaging platforms claim that it takes a few seconds to do all the stages and deliver messages between sender and recipient.
But this can be a problem though.
Decentralized messaging issues
Taking into account the fact that there are different consensus mechanisms for different decentralized messengers, they all have some specific problems.
For instance, some consensuses allow basic transfers but do not support multi-user interactions. Others can do multiple users communication, but such systems now cannot maintain high transaction (messaging) speed.
Moreover, there is an issue with transaction fees. As we know, transactions inside digital assets’ blockchain exist due to the support of the community (either miners or stakers), who receive their rewards.
But you can’t make people pay fees just for sending messages inside a decentralized network. So blockchain messengers now have complicated business-model. A lion’s share of them has parent projects, like crypto exchanges, e-wallets, or traditional-coded p2p-messengers.
The last but not least, most decentralized messengers need real-time relay and storage capabilities. This means that the receivers should be online whenever someone sends them a text.
So as for now, the high-privacy blockchain messengers idea challenges its scalability, speed, and developing/maintaining cost issues.
Blockchain messaging pros
It’s quite easy to find advantages in this idea. Just because an ideal-working blockchain has a lot of useful features in terms of private messaging.
- you don’t need to give your phone number or email to create an account;
- access to contacts and location is also unrequited;
- your IP addresses can’t be discovered;
- identity-theft, servers attacks, and personal data leaks are less possible;
- consensus-based host system belongs to users, so any company can’t sell your data;
- it’s impossible to block accounts or even delete messages, so there is no censorship at all;
- you would get a confirmation of the recipient’s ability to read your message.
Maybe the last point is not so unusual, but privacy features are quite impressive for the public-use messenger.
Decentralized messengers available today
Two years ago Loki Foundation launched Session messaging app for Android and iPhones. The Session is basically the blockchain-based fork of Signal p2p-messenger.
“The app runs on the Service Node blockchain network. This is a decentralized network for sending messages between users. And it makes the app more private by hiding the IP addresses of the users on the network and enabling it to work without needing phone numbers,” Decrypt wrote about the Session.
The platform developers also claimed that the Session is resilient to such vulnerabilities as Sybil attacks. This kind of attack makes hackers pretend to be thousands of nodes on the network to spy on it. But the Session nodes are required to stump up some cryptocurrency as collateral in order to help operate the network.
“Session is purpose-built for activists. It’s a great messenger option for protestors and activities because it is secure, private, anonymous, and decentralized. When you use Session, you can be sure that you can speak freely,” the Session spokesperson recently said.
The press release writes that Session blockchain messenger already reached 1 000 000 download milestone on Google Play and has over 300,000 monthly active users.
There were also projects like Etherscan, Sense.chat, Beechat, Dust, e-Chat, Stylo, Secretum, and others. All these messengers have different levels of centralization and economic model. But not a single one of them can beat traditional messengers’ functionality and popularity right now.
Why do we need decentralized messengers?
As the internet is now transferring to the Web3 era, the idea of bringing digital power back to the users is in the air.
Decentralized, high-privacy, easy to use, and utility blockchain messenger is a great idea. But its realization already faces a stack of problems.
“Choosing a platform like Signal as a messaging platform would be best, as it has very good encryption. Also, permanence in terms of messaging isn’t a big deal or something most users don’t even want anyway,” says Alexander Klus, founder of a decentralized content sharing platform Creaton.
Klus thinks that a fully functional, viable blockchain messenger is a ‘very hard problem to solve’, and eve Status – the official Ethereum messenger – contains some degree of centralization in order to scale better.
Surely, there are issues like the Russian government spying and killing their activists because of insecure messengers. But wouldn’t the efficient blockchain messenger have the reverse effect by giving too much anonymity to the criminals?
This question is still reasonable for the crypto, as a lot of regulators see it as a financial instrument for the terrorists.
Anyway, decentralized messengers’ developers have a lot of time to solve their problems before pro-Kremlin hackers finally get access to Telegram.