What is internet censorship? How does internet censorship work? What can a node “do” about internet censorship? A dVPN use case
What is internet censorship? How does internet censorship work? To understand this, we need to understand the history of the Internet. In its very early days, the Internet was decentralised. It was a public place where computers spoke to each other directly. Anyone could build upon open protocols that were governed by a small community of users — just like Mysterium Network (or see our definitive guide to becoming a Mysterium Node Runner).
This accessibility invited companies to contribute, to experiment, and develop fast. Direct peer to peer file sharing was born during this time, in the late 90s. The first Internet businesses began to emerge, and they soon abandoned the open protocol design in place of their own centralized alternatives.
The Internet today is now governed by a handful of these businesses. Tech empires — Google, Amazon, Apple, Yahoo, Facebook — with their privately owned servers and infrastructure power the web for everyone. With this power comes unchallenged and uncapped control. If the Internet were a nation state, it would not be a democracy.
“If the Internet were a nation state, it would not be a democracy.”
While they operate mostly in the online domain, the decisions and actions of these tech giants affect our privacy, security, our access to information and to each other. Their carefully programmed algorithms design our world view, and most of our news is filtered through very few platforms. We can only trust that Google will act ethically as a gatekeeper to the world’s information. Facebook has already betrayed our trust, yet we continue to log in each day without any reasonable alternative. The internet, which is “owned” by no one, has been monopolised.
Governments and their agencies have attempted to exert some sort of influence and keep these companies in check. Legislations like the GDPR are meant to protect us, but the laws which govern the privacy of our personal data have largely benefited corporate needs.
“We pay Internet Service Providers to get us online, yet they continue to sabotage our privacy in exchange for greater returns.”
The flaws with a centralised internet are deeply embedded within its infrastructure:
Related: A comparison between dVPNS.
“We have normalised the trading of our privacy in exchange for convenient services”
We pay Internet Service Providers to get us online, yet they continue to sabotage our privacy in exchange for greater returns. Your every email, purchase, google search, upload and friend request is translated into data that is collected and stored in their centralised servers. All this personal information is monetised without your knowledge, your online habits and movements sold to advertisers and businesses who thrive off our profiles. Just this week, Bloomberg reported that businesses can buy information about our locations and movements with ease.
These servers are regularly hacked and sensitive data leaked, often without real consequence. In 2018 alone, over one billion people were victim to these data breaches. You may have been affected without knowing (but you can check using certain tools, including this one). This is why it is important for you to understand the difference between anonymity and privacy.
What’s more concerning is the ease with which governments can access this same information. Tech companies allow the NSA to access their servers and collect data through formalised arrangements. The UK’s Snoopers Charter grants the government the right to legally monitor the internet usage of its citizens.
We have normalised the trading of our privacy in exchange for convenient services, forgetting that it is a basic human right. The UN urges the protection of our privacy and anonymity online to evade the grasp of “broad and intrusive government surveillance.”
Part of the Charter of Human Rights is the fundamental right of freedom of expression, which encompasses the freedom to “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Yet many jurisdictions around the world confine their citizens within digital walls, inhibiting the free flow of truths and voices. This online censorship erodes democracy and equality in the real world.
We’re now entering a new era of the internet, one which honours its original, decentralised roots.
“To decentralise the internet is to democratise it”
New technology offers us an opportunity to re-engineer the foundations of the web today; it withdraws commercial influence and government control, distributing this power among users instead. To decentralise the internet is to democratise it — to break apart the infrastructure of a corporately managed internet, and assign this responsibility to us.
Blockchain has already begun facilitating this through its democratic and self-governing architecture. Instead of centralised servers, we can create peer to peer systems which allow people, not business, to securely store and share information online.
Anyone can be a part of this decentralised system. Your computer becomes a node, acting as a miniature server. This means it can help power the entire network by directly sharing its excess resources, such as bandwidth or processing power. We can do this without any kind of official host or authority at all — and be paid for it. The bigger this distributed network grows, the stronger and faster it becomes, and a bandwidth marketplace can flourish. This is what a future without internet censorship looks like.
An internet powered by people is the next stage of its technological and social evolution. An ambitious few have already started to jumpstart this transformation. The creator and “father” of the Internet himself, Tim Berners-Lee, is now the co-lead of the Decentralized Information Group at MIT, working to reverse the trend of centralisation and restore “net neutrality”.
“An internet powered by people is the next stage of its technological and social evolution.”
Momentum is building. Countless other entrepreneurial teams around the world are building the decentralised applications (dApps) and open-source tools which will empower a global community of users to govern and sustain the internet.
A strong node network can solve the failings of our centralised internet. One of its many real-world applications is in being the foundation of a strong, community-run VPN. Learn more about becoming a Mysterium Node.
Think of a VPN as a failsafe against the various threats which undermine an open and democratic internet. It allows you to connect to servers located around the world, hiding your IP address and identity — a technological remedy for censorship, surveillance and firewalls.
Yet common VPNs utilise servers that are centrally owned and run by businesses, and they can store logs of all your traffic without anyone knowing. You have to trust that they won’t do anything with this data, nor that they’ll hand it over to authorities if asked to. While some of your data may be encrypted, lots of it can still be revealed.
We can instead leverage decentralised networks so that your encrypted data is sharded into separate pieces and filtered in an unrecognisable form through a distributed node network — without the possibility of being traced or censored. A single node will never be able to identify you or your online activities, nor can authorities and third parties.
In its decentralised form, a VPN pays people (nodes) for providing the service. And as with a decentralised internet, a decentralised VPN has no single point of failure or attack, making it more robust than centralised options. It creates a secure and accessible online space, enhances user privacy in the truest sense, and is strengthened by the mutual trust and shared interests of a global community looking out for each other.