The afternoon session of the Decentralized Web Summit started with a rousing call to action by EFF’s own Cory Doctorow, who started by talking about…Oreos. More specifically: if you want to lose weight, you start by throwing away your bag of Oreos, so that when it’s been a long day and you’re exhausted and you’re craving a snack, they’re not there to tempt you. This is what’s called a “Ulysses Pact,” something you do when you’re strong and at your best, so that you can avoid giving in to temptation and compromise when you’re at your worst.
He called on the audience to act now to make a Ulysses pact for the decentralized web, because everything eventually fails or falls on hard times. If we want to make sure that the principles and values we hold dear survive, we need to design the systems that embody those principles so that they can’t be compromised of weakened. In other words, we need to build things now so that five or ten or twenty years from now, when what we’ve built is successful and someone asks us to add a backdoor or insert malware or track our users, it simply won’t be possible (for either technological or legal or monetary reasons)—no matter how much outside pressure we’re under.
After all, “The reason the web is closed today is because…people just like you made compromises that seemed like the right compromise to make at the time. And then they made another compromise, a little one. And another one.” He continued, pointing out that “We are, all of us, a mix of short-sighted and long-term…We must give each other moral support. Literal support to uphold the morals of the decentralized web, by agreeing now on what an open decentralized web is.” Only by doing this will we be able to resist the siren song of re-centralization.
And what sort of principles should we agree to? Cory suggests two. First, when a computer receives conflicting instructions from its owner and from a remote party, the owner’s wishes should always take precedence. In other words, no DRM (that means you, W3C). Second, disclosing true facts about the security of systems that we rely upon should never ever be illegal. In other words, we need to work to abolish things like the DMCA, which create legal uncertainty for security researchers disclosing vulnerabilities in systems locked behind DRM. The crowd’s response to this passionate call to action? A standing ovation.
Cory’s talk was followed by a series of panels. The first included Primavera de Filippi (Backfeed & Coala), Max Ogden (The DAT Project), Wendy Seltzer (W3C), and Peter Van Garderen (Artefactual Systems). They discussed in further detail how we can actually carry out Cory’s call to action, and build our values in to the decentralized web, covering everything from decentralized governance systems to how code, norms, markets, and the law interact to affect our lives.
The second panel focused on security for the decentralized web, and included Van Jacobson (Google and Named Data Networking Project), Mike Perry (Tor), Paige Peterson (MaidSafe), and Brian Warner (Tahoe-LAFS). They covered familiar ground when it comes to computer security, talking about threat modeling, red-teaming, and how one of the things they’re most concerned about when it comes to the security of the systems they build is attacks on developers in order to reach end users.
The third panel presented several demos of actual, working decentralized web projects. Juan Benet presented the newest demos from IPFS. Trent McConaghy (BigchainDB & IPDB) and Denis Nazarov (Mediachain) each presented a different tool for making sure artists can get attribution for their work via the decentralized web. Karissa McKelvey showed off the DAT Project and Code for Science, tools which help scientists share research data and their resulting papers. And Evan Schwartz demoed Interledger, a tool for sending money across ledgers the same way theInternet Protocol sends packets across networks.
Finally, the day ended with closing remarks by Brewster Kahle, the founder of the Internet Archive and the person who made sure that the idea of having a Decentralized Web Summit would become a reality. “We’ve made real progress today,” Brewster said. And what do we do now? “Let’s build a decentralized web.”