Redecentralize Digest — March 2022
In this issue:
EU’s DMA hammered out
The Digital Markets Act (DMA) got agreed upon by the European Parliament and Council. The DMA should limit abuses of platform power, such as the bundling and self-preferencing practices common among GAFAM et al.
The final regulation text is not ready and available yet at time of writing, but for an outline and analysis see e.g. EDRi and TechCrunch, or hear Euractiv’s interview with the EP’s main negotiator.
Our favourite proposed provisions, that would impose interoperability (see last month’s digest), got partially included: The final agreement includes an interoperability requirement (supposedly this text) for “number-independent interpersonal communication services” (think chat apps), although not for social media more broadly.
However, the interoperability obligations are somewhat weak:
- Platforms, once designated as gatekeeper, get up to 4 years to prepare interoperability of various features, which can even be prolonged if needed.
- The gatekeeper platform can choose the interface/protocol for interoperating; it could develop a custom overcomplicated protocol and document it badly (cf. Microsoft’s Office Open XML).
- Interop seems intended for federation between larger service providers, not self-hosted software. If feasible at all, you’d likely have to fill in paperwork and wait three months before your home-run box can chat with your friends.
The interoperability obligations have been watered down partly because of fears that interoperability may conflict with end-to-end encryption (e2ee), especially in group chats. While some (ex-Facebook) security experts keep spreading such warnings, others explain how interop & e2ee go together just fine; for example by using the Matrix protocol (whose team already sketched an implementation) or the draft federated Message Layer Security standard (that is being dusted off).
Even if the law has some sharp teeth, effective enforcement may fail. But at least the EU learnt from the GDPR, and companies cannot exploit the Irish hospitality to flee from the DMA. The European Commission itself is mostly in charge of enforcement — and competition law is the one thing it tends to act upon. Let’s hope it dares to bite.
All in all, will the DMA help decentralise and increase privacy, resilience, choice? I guess yes, at the very least by serving as a first step pushing the digital economy in a new direction, away from unfettered monopolisation. Decentralisation may start by denormalising centralisation.
Ethereum 8 years later
Redecentralize co-founder Francis Irving rewatched this 8-year old interview he did for Redecentralize with one of the Ethereum founders (Gavin Wood) before it launched. His observations, comparing predictions to what happened:
On marketing it - Gavin was optimistic that it was sufficiently revolutionary it would attract interested programmers. I don’t think I believed him at the time of the interview. Yet it was true! The smart coders drawn to the project round about 2015 were quite astounding.
On what the killer app is - neither of us really knew. “it will be very interesting” is the quote. Which it certainly was. I’d argue the killer app was simply ease of making tokens (ERC-20) leading to the ICO boom. Not quite the idealistic things we hoped for in the interview.
On how the world will look when millions of people use it - Gavin called rightly that it was legal / financial things. His answer was a) things like banking co-operatives, so social change movements. b) transparency of financial services, so regulators can spot illegal activity.
Now millions of people do use Ethereum. DeFi has certainly shown lot of innovation, and it still hasn’t bedded in really - although we are getting overly centralised capitalist things as well as co-operative things off it I think.
On regulatory transparency (to stop things like collateralized debt obligations)… Not really yet, if anything so far Ethereum has attracted people who want to break important rules in mainstream finance. That said, Governments are starting to wise up now, and we could get this.
On user experience - Gavin said it is a browser. And indeed it is a browser - often simply via a normal centralised website unfortunately. And sometimes via a wallet plugin. As Moxie’s analysis showed recently, the wallets are using centralised APIs, not quite what was intended.
Overall, the dent in the world was definitely of the scale Gavin expected at the time, although the details aren’t as good as he wanted at the time. And I assume there’s a reason he went on to do Polkadot instead of pushing Ethereum more…
It’s worth rewatching to really understand Ethereum’s actual goals — which were far more aligned with Redecentralize than where things have ended up, honestly.
- SDEPS (Shared Digital European Public Sphere) launched its new website along with a monthly newsletter. It also held an event around the generative interoperability.
- The Your Undivided Attention podcast discusses the “Dark Side of Decentralization”, comparing social media with dynamite in terms of social impact and implied responsibility.
- A shortlist of Tools for Communicating Offline and in Difficult Circumstances.
- Apr 1: Mitigating Harms in Web3, online; two-part unconference about the web’s harms to individuals and societies.
- Apr 13: DOTS monthly assembly; monthly meetup about design aspects in decentralisation, by the Decentralization Off The Shelf initiative.
- Apr 26–28: Internet Identity Workshop, Mountain View (California); unconference about decentralized identity/self-sovereign identity, organised twice a year.
- Apr 28: Goodbye Facebook, Hello Decentralized Social Media? Can Peer-to-Peer Lead to Less Toxic Online Platforms?, online; part of the 6-part workshop Exploring The Decentralized Web.
- May 17–18: PublicSpaces Conference, Amsterdam (partly Dutch)
- June 6–10 RightsCon, online; conference on “human rights in the digital age”
- July 22–26: May Contain Hackers, Netherlands; outdoor hacker camp
- Aug 24–28 DWeb Camp, California; outdoor retreat/conference all about decentralising the web.
For more events like these, check out and subscribe to the dweb.events calendar!
About this digest
The Redecentralize Digest is a monthly publication about internet (re)decentralisation. It covers progress and thoughts relating technology and politics, without ties to a particular project nor to one definition of decentralisation — figuring out its meanings and relations is part of the mission.
This digest was written by Gerben, with Francis and thanks to all tips & suggestions.
The digest’s format and content are not set in stone. Feedback, corrections and suggestions for next editions are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. We don’t spy on our readers, so please do tell us what you think!