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Tag: privacy

Taking Back Our Privacy One App at a Time: Introducing the Privacy-Minded E-Commerce Mobile App, Haven

If we’re going to stop complaining about tech companies exploiting our data to maximize their gains, then we need to stop giving them our information by leaving a multitude of digital breadcrumbs while using the usual social and web apps we depend on.

So far, we haven’t had too many good choices for “switching off data collection”, and even companies that give us those options aren’t completely letting users off the hook. An emerging choice will be to completely switch to using the products and services of a new breed of companies where user privacy is a key feature. 

For example, DuckDuckGo, a Google alternative is one of the better known such apps for searching.

One by one, each segment is being targeted by this new generation of up-and-coming privacy-minded apps that are relying on blockchain infrastructures and peer to peer networks to deliver new experiences where the user owns their own data, and no else.

In the e-commerce space, that’s where OpenBazaar comes in.

Yesterday , OpenBazaar (the P2P protocol) launched their long awaited mobile app, Haven to place peer-to-peer commerce in the hands of consumers.

4 years ago, OpenBazaar got started on their vision for free commerce, and they had already delivered a desktop version that does that.

Today’s mobile version makes their vision more easily accessible to consumers, and with some added features.  

What’s unique or interesting about Haven:

  • No listing fees. You’re not paying to list your products.
  • No credit card fees. As a merchant, you are not penalized due to the fees being deducted by credit card companies.
  • Choice of cryptocurrencies. Currently, the platform supports payments in Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Litecoin, Zcash (and soon Ether).
  • Escrow services. The presence of escrow services (optional) basically is a kind of reputational feature that gives an added level of confidence between a buyer and seller that don’t know each other, while preserving their anonymity.
  • Private chat. You can instantaneously engage with a seller, buyer or any user over a private chat channel to discuss your transaction or anything related. 
  • Social stream. I can’t think of any other e-commerce application that has a built-in social feed to let users engage with each other, discover new content or publish related material and thoughts, again within a private and secure environment, not available for Google indexing. You can follow users, stores and allow others to follow you.

Technically, there is a breakthrough worth mentioning about the Haven implementation. Every install of the App maintains its own connection to the network and connects directly to other participants. We take this for granted in other mobile apps that typically rely on a Web server, but this is not the case in peer-to-peer networks. In essence, when you’re buying or selling or chatting, it’s all done end-to-end encrypted directly over P2P rather than through the OB1/OpenBazaar servers. The good thing is that users will be actually on a P2P network without even knowing it, because their experience will be similar to that of being on a normal mobile App. This is a breakthrough because most other decentralized App (aka Dapps) typically require the user to first install an add-on like Metamask for example. The future of Dapps will include embedding all the connection logic inside, in order to insulate users from the technical barriers they would have to jump through otherwise.

You might think,- how about Craigslist where you can sell (almost) anything, pseu-anonymously. True, Craigslist and classifieds in general are quite open and cheap to use, but most sellers still need to pay to list their products, and there are no built-in payment capabilities, therefore fraud is difficult to control, especially when selling over distances when the buyer and seller are not meeting in person, or when the product is a digital good. With Haven, you have the benefits of an integrated payment capability alongside an escrow agent to secure the veracity of your transaction and protect you against bad actors.

You can read more about Haven from their blog post introducing it, and you can download the app from either the Google Play or Apple Store.

If you are interested in seeing where the future of e-commerce might be headed, particularly as enabled by blockchain, cryptocurrency, decentralized peer-to-peer technology, and where privacy is a primordial feature, then it’s worth experiencing it by downloading the Haven App

Once you are there, here is the link to my profile where you can follow me as I plan to be an active user, both as a seller and buyer. 

About 13,000 products are currently listed by a few hundred sellers catering to a few thousands worldwide buyers, but this is only the beginning and a good foundation to grow from.

Welcome to the future of privacy-minded peer-to-peer e-commerce!


The Privacy Apps Are Coming, With and Without The Blockchain

A well-known weakness of the Web today is that it has become too centralized, and that wasn’t part of its original design intent. It is too centralized from the point of view that big central players (e.g. Facebook and Google) own a lot of our data because we interact with them on a daily basis and leave breadcrumbs along the way. What is annoying about this situation is that we don’t know exactly how these large companies use our data. They tell us vaguely because personal data is at the heart of their business models. Without our data, they can’t sell targeted advertising or display relevant ads.  

One way to claim back your privacy is to use Tor, a free software that helps you defend against traffic data which can be used by others to learn about you. Tor is not widely used by the average web consumer, but it is used by the military, journalists, law enforcement officers, activists and others who require their privacy to be preserved. Using Tor is not illegal, but using dark web sites (that use Tor) and are engaging in illegal activities is subject to country-specific regulation.

In the blockchain space, a number of activities have emerged under the classification of “claiming back the web”, and using the decentralized infrastructure of blockchain (and its strong encryption) to serve-up a new class of applications capabilities.

I’ve already written about the emerging Unstoppable P2P Networks, with their important censorship-free and privacy features. I’ve said that the future of viable P2P networks can’t be stopped, because they are necessary infrastructure for the next generation of decentralized protocols, functional capabilities and applications.

And in another post discussing Decentralized Governance, I’ve written that one of the best value proposition the blockchain has for itself today, is that the data is stored on decentralized networks that can’t be easily taken down, hacked or forced to be shared.

You don’t really need a blockchain to re-claim your privacy but there are emerging blockchain-based applications that could become popular due to their specific value propositions centered on natively decentralized data and access.

So, there are 2 ways to approach this. You can block data on existing web applications via the way you access them, or you can design from scratch new apps that only store their data on decentralized networks, and are by default censorship and privacy resistant.

Aside from Tor, here are a few of these early beacheads. Some have a blockchain component, but not all of them do.

Duckduckgo – a search engine that protects the searcher privacy, avoiding personalized search results.

Brave – a browser that prevents tracking and blocks ads.

Adamant – mobile browser that blocks ads, popovers and invisible tracking scripts.

Tox – open source, surveillance-resistant messaging application that runs without central servers, and with end-to-end encryption.

Graphite – a decentralized and encrypted alternative to G-suite and Microsoft Office where only users own their data.

Tenta – a VPN-like mobile browser with built-in privacy and encryption, including ad blocking.

Haven – a privacy shop & chat app that includes exchanging cryptocurrencies (developed by the OpenBazaar team – disclosure: I’m an investor)

Stealthy – a decentralized, end to end encrypted, communication protocol built with security & privacy in mind.

Note that the above apps can be used by a non-technical user. I didn’t include technical frameworks and protocols that are more targeted for developers.

I foresee a trend where users will be gradually attracted to these new types of applications. However, the stumbling block is that users need a strong incentive to move towards them. Today, the urge to move is more out of curiosity than it is about necessity. That’s because few users have been negatively impacted by loss of data, privacy breaches or other harmful circumstances due to central controls.  

This emerging field is early and deserves to be followed.


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