On Censorship Resistance: a Chat with Mainframe CEO Mick Hagen

On Censorship Resistance: a Chat with Mainframe CEO Mick Hagen

From Protonmail to Telegram, centralized messaging services have experienced growing privacy tensions this year. Bitsonline talked with Mick Hagen, CEO of decentralized comms play Mainframe, to learn more about his project and its emphasis on total censorship resistance. 

Also see: Tezos Foundation Requests Proposals for Developer Grants

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Building in the ‘Privacy Conversation’

William Peaster, Bitsonline: In recent weeks, Bitsonline’s Russia correspondents have been tracking the Russian government’s de-anonymization flexes against popular messaging service Telegram. Telegram has kicked and screamed all the way, but the company’s leadership does provide a centralized vector that pressure, however effective, can be applied to. Is the inverse the underlying idea of Mainframe, then? To create a decentralized messaging platform via which no centralized censorship or surveillance can take place?

Mick Hagen: That is exactly the idea behind Mainframe.

We want to create a network where privacy, security, and surveillance-resistance are first-class citizens. Where users’ control of their own data is standard and easy. Applications launched on the Mainframe network will be truly unstoppable.

William: The Mainframe team recently donated 1,000 ETH to the Freedom of the Press Foundation. Privacy technology skeptics in the mainstream often say of the tech, “Well I have nothing to hide, why should I personally care?” In the context of the donation to the Freedom of the Press Foundation, what’s your rebuttal to that skeptical position?

Mick: This concept has been addressed thoroughly by some of the great privacy advocates of our time. The whole privacy conversation we’re having is largely a product of Edward Snowden’s revelations of 2013.

1,000 ETH toward a free press. Mick Hagen pictured left.

He said, “privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.” He also happens to be on the Board of Directors for the Freedom of the Press Foundation. Another board member, Glenn Greenwald, said privacy is “the place that uniquely enables us to explore limits, to test boundaries, to engage in novel and creative ways of thinking and being.” That same sentiment is echoed by security expert Bruce Schneier, who said privacy is “a requirement for maintaining the human condition with dignity and respect.”

We couldn’t agree more.

William: One of the five tenets of the Mainframe protocol is “interoperability.” Could you briefly walk our readers through how that works, e.g. across Tezos, Ethereum, etc.

Mick: Many projects are fundamentally tied to a specific blockchain and are, in a sense, inward facing. We see our network more as a medium for connecting. Mainframe is building a set of tools that will be open to use wherever the community needs them.

Additionally, our use of blockchain is critical, but is just one piece of the network. The Mainframe token incentivizes cooperative behavior across the network, rewarding real-time provisioning of resources for unstoppable DApps. Currently it’s an ERC20 token on the Ethereum network, but that could change. We’re ultimately blockchain agnostic.

William: How would you characterize the unique value proposition of the MFT token?

Mick: Various privacy-focused tools already exist in the current web ecosystem. They’re readily available and the threats against privacy are well known. But adoption hasn’t been widespread.

The Mainframe token is the core piece necessary to provision resources on our network. Node operators are rewarded for bringing life to the network, providing the storage, bandwidth, database services, and other necessary elements. The Mainframe token drives this vibrant economy on a network built for privacy.

William: The Mainframe team just got a Binance MFT listing under its belt. What’s next for the platform in the short-term? Where would you like to be with the platform at this point next year?

Mick: The Binance listing was fantastic, and makes MFT easily available to such a huge audience. But it’s really just the beginning. Durable networks aren’t built overnight. This platform will be private and secure, but also fast and easy for developers. That means building APIs, crafting thorough documentation, offering software libraries, and curating a pro-social community. A lot of people know us for our bold mission and unique voice in the space, but you’ll also be seeing technical milestones announced more often. Our engineering team from across the globe is at the Mainframe home office for a couple weeks to accelerate that goal. We’re pressing ahead on all of those fronts.

‘Onyx’ as an Example

So what would a Mainframe DApp actually look and work like?

To begin with, much like ones you’re already familiar. Accordingly, the Mainframe team has built the first DApp for their network, dubbed Onyx, to show what’s possible going forward.

Onyx – like Slack, but with privacy caked-in.

The Mainframe team first demonstrated Onyx at the Ethereum community’s Devcon3 even back in November 2017. The team has explained the DApp as being like Slack, but “bulletproof”:

“Onyx was an outgrowth of our own frustrations with existing messaging tools. We want messaging that’s bulletproof to outside threats, but also has the smooth interface and experience of Slack. We built Onyx on Mainframe to upgrade from the downtime, security vulnerabilities, or centralized architecture of traditional messengers. It runs on the censorship-resistant and surveillance-resistant Mainframe network. All major platforms are supported (even mobile).”

What’s your take? Do you think DApps with built-in privacy are the future? Let us know your position in the comments below. 

Images via Mainframe

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