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Nobody REALLY Trusts the Blockchain

A position statement for Rebooting Web of Trust 7, September 2018
By Dan Burnett, Shahan Khatchadourian, and Chaals Nevile (ConsenSys)

Ironically, the very technology being used as the foundation of a no-human-trust-required world is, itself, not really trusted by the world at large. In this position paper we list examples of both lack of trust in blockchain technology and networks and excessive trust in such networks.

Asset safety

Whether your asset is some amount of cryptocurrency, or something else implemented or secured by a smart contract, your asset is tied to a specific blockchain. Almost all of the current consensus algorithms, particularly on the public blockchains, provide only probabilistic guarantees of safety (against byzantine/malicious actors), and those guarantees depend on having a large enough verifier pool for the statistics to hold. Unfortunately, history provides many examples of first movers in a new technology not being the ones who survive in the end. The implication is that any of our current public blockchains (such as Bitcoin) might not be as popular, say, 20 years from now as they are today, resulting in a smaller participant pool and thus a greater safety risk. A way to move such assets, without requiring trust in a commercial asset pooling entity, might be beneficial.

Trust by Design: benchmarking trust in an open (blockchain) world

Blockchains with public networks, by design, are aligned to a philosophy of "trust-free" open access and use. Perhaps without basis, pundits believe that the design of public blockchain protocols, such as decentralization and proof of work, implicitly convey trust. Benchmarking trust was much easier for a user during the initial take-up of blockchains, since there were few protocols, and community actions were easier to interpret. However, due to the variety, volume, and velocity of blockchains, users are again heavily dependent on external information, such as token value. Solutions for benchmarking trust will be beneficial to users and protocol designers.

Blockchain history persistence

Most data systems have a fair bit of entropy, as well as a delete button. Blockchains don’t. So putting information there if you are not absolutely certain of it, and sure you never want to change your mind about posting it, is a big mental leap. In an age where ideas like the right to be forgotten, take-down requests, concerns about surveillance states becoming efficient, and deleting your profile are important to people, this can be a real concern.

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