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Bitcoin And The Arab Spring: Lessons For Revolutionaries Communicating

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Bitcoin is a Monetary Revolution

Bitcoin is not simply a new monetary tool, a new currency, or an additional asset class. I tell people that Bitcoin is a Monetary Revolution. The Bitcoin eco-system is full of innovations to bring value beyond simply price growth to new all-time-highs. You can say that the value proposition is built on the foundations of the ever-expanding benefits of the wonder-currency.

After my failed attempt to first invest in Bitcoin in early 2010, I found myself traveling and working in the Middle East, and Egypt in particular, later that year. Inadvertently, the events of the Arab Spring in the region showed me how today the Social Layer of Bitcoin can be a powerful tool supporting Bitcoin adoption.

The year 2010 was the culmination of several visits I made to the region over the previous years that allowed me to amass a large group of friends and colleagues in Egypt. Egypt is a massively impressive country that hosts a grand capital. Cairo is the world’s first truly international metropolis. In some way its ancient wonders mask the multinational and multicultural mix of the city. It is a financial hub, the people are wondrous, friendly, and open to ideas. It is the globe’s first melting pot, having been established as such thousands of years before New York city coined the phrase. I found the most delicious sushi restaurants in Cairo, the best mango and the freshest fish served on the banks of the Nile River brought in from the Alexandria seaside.

Unfortunately, underlying the ancient wonders there existed issues of poverty, political unease, and the impact from regional tensions. I was told that around 1/3rd of the population of Cairo’s approximately 20 million people had trouble feeding themselves daily. Bribes to public servants, while prevalent, were not really the wicked administrative corruption found in the Western world but occurred as a survival mechanism to enable people to simply earn enough money for their daily necessities. The brewing pot of concerns in Egypt and the region ignited the Arab Spring in late 2010 and early 2011.

The Role of Social Media and the Social Layer

When we speak about Bitcoin adoption, we talk about expanding the understanding and knowledge of people. The Bitcoin eco-system is filled with start-ups offering both free and paid services to help the broader public become knowledgeable and comfortable enough to adopt it. Not only is understanding important, the ability for current users to interact and communicate among themselves with clarity and no noise is also vital.

Just as with Bitcoin adoption and the need for a supporting communication framework through the Social Layer, the role of Social Media was equally important in contributing to the events of the Arab Spring. Wikipedia stated that “In the wake of the Arab Spring protests, a considerable amount of attention focused on the role of social media and digital technologies in allowing citizens within areas affected by ‘the Arab Uprisings’ as a means for collective activism to circumvent state-operated media channels.”

In 2010 Facebook was the go-to platform for attempting to communicate semi-noise-free on various topics and connect with like-minded cohorts. It was the organizing tool anchoring a broader Social Layer supported by the likes of WhatsApp and Tango, with the latter being the main used chat app across the Middle East at that time and the mechanism, along with direct old-style phone calls, that I used to keep in touch with my Egyptian friends and colleagues.

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Noise and the Social Layer

We all know about and have experienced email spam, fake accounts on various social media portals, and comments from influencers that are masked self-promotions. In the Bitcoin world, we often attribute such noise to the crypto-sphere with the all-to-often “free coin giveaway” promotions.

Noise, or white noise as was written about in the novel titled “White Noise” by Don DeLillo in 1985 that won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction, has haunted Bitcoiners for over a decade. This noise equally impaired efforts during the Arab Spring in allowing clear communication between people. It continues to impair Bitcoiners like myself today, if perhaps under less ominous circumstances.

A social experience or movement can only become an effective Social Layer when noise is lessened. Reducing or removing noise enables development of a usable and supportive Social Layer for Bitcoin.

Lessons for Bitcoiners

During the days of the Arab Spring, reports by mainstream media in the region were highly questioned. The region did not trust the various cable-based news services. This reinforced the role of a Social Layer as the mechanism to communicate and share views, thoughts, and plans. For me, I tried often in vain to keep updated about the events and the safety of my friends. However, news sources were unclear, often conflicting, and biased. I took all this with a grain-of-salt and had to go directly to the sources on the ground, meaning chats with my friends via Tango, following Facebook groups and via old-style phone calls.

Like the noise I experience today when trying to understand and sort through information that is valuable and factual regarding Bitcoin, I experienced the same noise dilemma during the Arab Spring events.

Today I am frustrated when I read a report or see a Tweet commenting on the price of Bitcoin based on some influencer’s supposed “expertise”, only to then find over the next few weeks that Bitcoin rallies to a near-term high. I recall one specific Tweet, just as when Bitcoin hit its recent cycle low, saying that “we should all expect it to hit $10,000.” I am not a trader of Bitcoin but get upset when this type of noise is spread. I also get irritated when I am contacted by someone implying that they are a Bitcoiner only to find out that they just want to connect within the realm of the dating-world and don’t even know how to spell hodl. Back during the Arab Spring, I was equally frustrated when phone calls to colleagues dropped unexpectedly, messages via Tango were cryptic and the Facebook accounts of friends were blocked. With frustration the questions I sent were often unanswered: “Was that you on TV at the march?” “Is your area of Cairo blocked off?”

While today I can say that noise in the Bitcoin world is more of an unreasonable annoyance, to my friends in Egypt noise was a matter of personal well-being or even life-and-death. Social Media then was the means for mobilization and action, a Social Layer. Today the Social Layer of Bitcoin is the mechanism for pursuing further adoption. We are all certainly irritated today when some social media giants block or restrict accounts that discuss Bitcoin. However, can you imagine what it felt like to my Egyptian friends back in 2011 when they could not access their perceived noise-free gateways to understand what their future would hold?

The Monetary Revolution meets the Social Layer Revolution

I have experienced that “Noise” is the adversary of freedom. It impaired my Egyptian friends from effectively supporting their desired national transformation. It also impairs my support for Bitcoin and its Monetary Revolution. A strong Social Layer provides feeling, context and motivation. Just as I felt the angst of my friends day-to-day as they experienced the uncertainties of the Arab Spring, I feel disappointment when I seek to find rigorous and valuable connections in the Bitcoin space that only result in wasted time and false relations. From my first investment in Bitcoin I have supported the development of its echo-system and simultaneously support the role-out of a deep Social Layer so that there can be Less Noise but More Signal.

What I have learned from my experience is that the Social Layer of Bitcoin is creating a Social Revolution for the asset. We need to disrupt old modes of communication to assure and protect the ability for real human interaction among Bitcoiners that is not impaired by noise. I don’t want to have my life’s Bitcoin connections held ransom to the whims of whom I meet only randomly. I am taking the seeds of what I learned from the time during the Arab Spring and planting them today in Bitcoin’s Social Layer. Stronger relationships will help to build a stronger Bitcoin.

This is a guest post by Enza Coin. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.

​ During moments of revolution or instability, amplifying signal over noise can make the difference between success and failure. 

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Coinbase Report: Crypto Market Shook by German BTC Sales; Recovery Expected by September Despite US Economic Slowdown – Market Updates Bitcoin News

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The third quarter of 2024 has been tumultuous for the cryptocurrency market, with significant selling pressures and regulatory uncertainties.

​ The third quarter of 2024 has been tumultuous for the cryptocurrency market, with significant selling pressures and regulatory uncertainties. 

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Riot Platforms’ Bid Spurs Special Shareholders Meeting at Bitfarms – News Bytes Bitcoin News

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Bitfarms Ltd. has scheduled a special shareholders meeting for Oct. 29, 2024, in response to a requisition from Riot Platforms, Inc.

​ Bitfarms Ltd. has scheduled a special shareholders meeting for Oct. 29, 2024, in response to a requisition from Riot Platforms, Inc. 

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Bitcoin Seed Phrases: The Challenge of Mainstream Self-Custody Adoption

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An underlying theme of this cycle has been to challenge preconceived notions about how people use Bitcoin around the world. New behaviors are emerging and other cultures are using the asset in a way that is breaking previously established molds.

A major trend emerging out of this chaotic environment is the resurgence of seedless security models, which take a radically different approach to securing Bitcoin private keys. Proponents argue that established security practices are failing to meet the expectations of an increasing number of users. Along with the maturation of custodial alternatives, the emergence of ETF products is creating concerns about the prospect that future users will onboard into more complex self-custodial solutions.

It is not the first time security specialists have pointed the finger at seed phrases when asked about the difficulties of Bitcoin self-custody crossing the chasm. Industry veteran Jameson Lopp has long debated the challenges of the security model, and remains outspoken about its pitfalls. His company, multi-signature wallet provider Casa, was formed, in part, to address the issues created by traditional backup methods.

In a conversation with Bitcoin Magazine, current Casa CEO Nick Neuman echoed his colleague’s concerns:

“We need to think more carefully about how we use them as an industry because the user experience of getting hit with a seed phrase the first time you set up a wallet is very difficult.”

The Perils Of Seed Phrases

Despite significant progress in the quality of Bitcoin products and applications, the landscape of self-custody remains perilous for those whose comfort with technology stops at their iPhones. Every other day, accounts emerge of various successful phishing attacks targeting victims’ funds by compromising their wallet’s seed phrases.

Earlier this January, popular hardware wallet provider Trezor announced they had reasons to believe sensitive customer information had been leaked due to a breach in the systems of a third-party service provider. In the following months, X users reported a new wave of phishing attempts hitting their inboxes.

Another reminder of the fragile state of the average person’s security practices came in 2022 following a security exploit that affected popular password manager LastPass.

Following a string of curious wallet-draining incidents affecting mobile and hardware wallet users alike, researchers eventually figured out that seed phrases stored on the service’s servers had been compromised. As of a couple of months ago, losses have been estimated to have reached over $250 million in various cryptocurrencies.

While popular Bitcoin influencers have banged the table for the adoption of more robust security systems involving hardware wallets, a large number of market participants have yet to warm up to this practice. Shehzan Maredia, founder of Bitcoin financial service company Lava, sees a significant divide between security product developers and a large section of the Bitcoin market.

“I’ve realized most people start questioning their ability to self-custody when you involve hardware wallet and seed phrases. Half of them will do a poor job of following instructions and the other half will simply prefer using custodians,” he remarked.

Security experts are adamant that private key material should remain offline at all times, but Maredia suggests secure enclaves present in modern mobile phones are sufficient to thwart the majority of attacks affecting users today.

“Looking at the common causes responsible for the loss of users’ funds, it’s rare to find examples of mobile keys being compromised.” Rather, he argues, it’s more likely users will do a poor job of securing their seed phrase backup or will give it away during a phishing attack.

Seedless Challenges And Opportunities

Bitcoin products have seen a lot of improvements since Casa pioneered the seedless wallet approach years ago but few so far have followed in the company’s tracks. While self-custodial applications are more robust than ever, some changes have introduced additional steps to an already significant learning curve. It’s worth questioning whether a nihilistic attitude towards security has pigeonholed the practice into rituals unpalatable to the average person.

Neuman remains optimistic. He suggests there has been an observable shift in the industry towards more realistic approaches, though he thinks Bitcoin products are lagging behind

“There are still quite a few like wallets that force you to [save your seed phrase] upfront. I think it’s kind of a risk management thing on their end, but it actually works against the goal of helping users feel comfortable holding their own keys.”

Regardless, the trend suggests the rest of the industry is coming around to the risks of users handling sensitive information. Recent technologies such as passkeys, implemented in Coinbase’s new “Smart Wallet,” offer interesting alternatives for this new generation of products. Passkeys are a new standard promoted by internet giants like Apple and Google, which aim to replace traditional passwords with cryptographic keys tied to a user’s device and identity.

According to our research, testimonies from early adopters indicate the technology has yet to sort out important standardization issues. Lava’s Maredia agrees there is room for improvement. He recently launched a seedless solution he thinks achieves the best security tradeoffs one can expect of mobile devices.

The Lava Vault draws heavy inspiration from older contributions from ex-Spiral developer Tankred Hase called the Photon SDK. Photon implements a seedless cloud backup similar to Casa’s early implementation of the mobile key wallet but is fully open-source though it hasn’t been maintained for some time. Maredia is persuaded that the 2-of-2 solution he has adapted from existing designs in the ecosystem can stand against most known attacks.

“We looked at things like passkeys, but we just don’t think they are made to secure important key material like Bitcoin. They basically swap one piece of sensitive information for another and are usually stored in a password manager. In practice, most password managers do a poor job handling them, they can be deleted very easily even on iCloud.”

Lava secures users’ seed phrases using a high entropy key stored on a different server. Once encrypted, the seed is saved in a special directory on the user’s cloud that can help prevent accidental deletion or malicious access. Users authenticate with a key server, which enforces rate limiting, using a 4-digit PIN of their choice. Lava does not require the creation of any account which preserves users’ privacy from the service and its servers. For daily operations, the wallet uses another key stored on the device’s secure enclave.

“Even if a party accesses encrypted information, there is no single point of failure because they’d have to know the encryption key. Forgetful users can set up a PIN recovery method which allows them to change their PIN after a 30-day delay.”

Maredia expects his security protocol to evolve according to users’ needs and different risk profiles. Wallet policies such as 2FA, withdrawal or spending limits, and whitelisted addresses are already on the way. “Lava Smart Key is a very flexible solution. Users can upgrade their self-custody setup easily, and we’re open to accommodating users who have specific demands,” he explains.

Although seedless backups have been criticized for exposing individuals to undue third-party risks, open-source implementations like the Photon SDK and Lava’s vault model suggest more vendors and service providers could implement similar standards and mitigate this issue.

Seed phrases remain an important component of the security stack but both entrepreneurs consulted for this article believe it is essential to abstract them from most future users.

“Seed phrases in general, I think, are a very useful tool for making your keys more portable between wallets and giving you that exit option just in case something happens to the wallet software you’re using,” says Casa CEO Nick Neuman.

To eliminate single points of failure, Casa promotes a combination of multi-sig plans involving hardware devices but insists on sticking to its seedless principles where possible.

“Wallet software is made for managing private keys. Humans are not made for managing private keys. So we should leave that job to the wallets.”

​ Established security practices have failed to accommodate a growing segment of the Bitcoin user market 

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