The Internet Backbone and Privacy Concerns: Interview with the Lead Developer of PKT, Caleb James DeLisle

The Internet Backbone and Privacy Concerns

Over the next decade, digital services are expected to offer new innovations in commerce along with unprecedented accessibility. In parallel with this trend, internet-based services and enhanced network capabilities, such as 5G, are being deployed to increase data throughput. However, alongside this network advancement, the safety of individual information is one area of great concern, including the loss of privacy and the violation of privacy laws, which has culminated in GDPR regulations. As the importance of data privacy has become more widely recognized, the world is looking into the roles and responsibilities of network operators with respect to protecting individual privacy rights online.

Blockchain technology introduces several viable solutions to these contemporary problems, thanks to its immutability, anonymity, and adaptability. All these principles are embodied in a blockchain project called PKT, which is the first layer-1 blockchain using a bandwidth-hard proof of work. This means that anyone can participate in building out the internet in a decentralized way. By creating a low-barrier entry for CPU and bandwidth mining, PKT ushers in a new internet architecture, in which internet users become PKT Network infrastructure providers called Edge Points. In addition, PKT introduces a new role called a Cloud ISP, which refers to sophisticated network operators that build software defined networks (SDNs) and are able to efficiently manage customer demands and provide the best quality of service at a lower price point than competitive ISPs. In this way, the PKT Network not only provides the basis for a high speed, hybrid ISP/VPN provider network, but also integrates the novel cjdns protocol and Compact Source Routing for efficient packet transmission and end-to-end encrypted mesh networking. PKT’s innovations have the potential to lead the way and provide a viable answer to one of the key problems that has existed since the genesis of the internet: how is it possible to enhance data privacy while scaling the internet backbone?

I approached the lead developer of PKT with the intention of learning more about the rapidly growing PKT Network and gaining a deeper understanding of how PKT can change humanity’s relationship to the internet.

From an infrastructure standpoint, what are some of the biggest problems with the way the internet is operated today? 

The internet is already a very decentralised network, and it’s basically impossible to interfere with the major backbones. The real risk right now is the connection to the internet, what I call The Deadly Chokepoint. Typically you’ve got a couple of cable and phone companies controlling all of the access, and we could see some kind of “internet lockdown” where you have your 300 channels of centralised social media, but free and open internet is all but over with. Now a lot of people live in places where there’s a very low chance of that happening, and you should count yourself blessed, but as long as the minds of the people can be seized by dictators and despots, the world cannot be a safe place to live.

What are your biggest concerns with internet privacy and the security of personal data on the internet today? Does PKT offer a solution to mitigate these concerns? 

Well, most of the privacy violations we’re seeing these days are due to these massive social networking sites and people are already moving to open-source federated communities like Mastodon. But that’s not even because of privacy, that’s because moderation doesn’t scale. You’ve got these automated algorithms triggering on people having frank conversations about sensitive topics and then letting actual harassment and propaganda slip through. But the thing most people don’t think so much about is NetFlow data. Whenever you access a website, even if the data itself is encrypted, there’s a record that that communication happened. There’s a whole dark market where ISPs are selling this stuff to private companies. I say “dark” because it’s not really illegal but no one wants to admit they’re involved. VPNs are again an excellent solution because then all of the data bounces off the VPN provider. But like I said, if one day the big telcos decide to circle the waggons and start blocking VPNs on residential internet, we’re all going to be a bit screwed.

What is unique about the PKT Network architecture today? How does it evolve in the future?

From the very beginning, PKT has been based on PacketCrypt, the world’s first bandwidth-hard proof of work. So if you run a fiber line into your community, you can be mining PacketCrypt with that connection and helping pay for it. Not only that, PacketCrypt incentivises people to transport data from point A to point B. So when someone throws up a firewall, now there’s an actual economic incentive for someone to find a way around it. The next phase of the project is to get really good internet sharing and VPN technology up and running, so when someone buys one of these unfiltered commercial internet connections to be able to mine PacketCrypt, then they can use it to provide access to their neighbors and to be able to get to their VPN.

How does PKT propose to transform the public’s relationship to the internet, privacy and bandwidth?

The biggest change is that you go from being a passive consumer to being actively involved in the ownership and operation of internet infrastructure. Even if it’s just a Wi-Fi access point that you’re opening up to your neighbors, you’re part of the internet. Now you can take that further and start making directional wireless connections across town to further reduce costs, or even pay a company to bring a direct business fiber line to your house – something that is possible in most countries. And all of the data is encrypted until it hits a VPN exit, protecting the end user’s privacy.

Now, I’m interested to learn more about the native coin in the PKT ecosystem called PKT Cash. What makes this coin unique?

Well, it’s the world’s first bandwidth-hard layer-1 blockchain. There’s a lot of stuff floating around called “proof of bandwidth” or “proof of coverage” and such, but these are layer-2 projects, and they’re using a bit of a liberal definition of the word “proof”. The way they work is there’s basically a centralized token faucet that’s run by the founders and it pays out tokens to whoever can “prove”, to their satisfaction, that they have the bandwidth or coverage or whatever. This is in contrast to an actual proof-of-work algorithm where anyone in the world can mathematically verify that the work took place. Anyone can see that these “proof of X” tokens require a lot of trust in their founders because if their faucet system is funnelling a few tokens out the back door to their buddies, there’s no way to audit that.

How does PKT support decentralized bandwidth trading marketplaces? How is this possible?

So most blockchains have this very interesting, yet underutilized capability called Hashed TimeLock Contract (HTLC). Basically, you can make up a cryptographic secret and then transfer coins into a sort of escrow state where they will go to another person, but only if that secret is revealed. Then that person can, without knowing the secret, create another transaction, even on a whole other blockchain. Once these transactions are safely confirmed, you can reveal the secret and everybody gets their coins. It’s very powerful stuff because you’re no longer limited to one blockchain, you can fluidly swap across hundreds or thousands of entirely different blockchains. This technology is part of a larger development called Lightning Network which should allow for nearly free and instant payments. While this is all still emerging, it has the potential to be one of the biggest things in the blockchain space.

Can you talk about TokenStrike, and how this technology is useful in the PKT Network?

The real value of tokenization is not so much for the high-priced items as it is for the really low price stuff, like at the point where price becomes almost zero. But some of the transaction fees on chains like Ethereum can be absolutely outrageous, and that’s just with people moving around stable coins, meme coins, and NFTs. The best way to reduce these fees is to have more blockchains so the total transactions per second is multiplied and therefore competition for space in a block is less. At the far extreme, you can imagine a different chain for every asset, or at least every asset issuer. All of these little blockchains don’t need proof of work because they’re just issued tokens, so the issuer can simply sign every block in the chain. When you have the ability to fluidly swap assets between chains, you can imagine everyone being able to transact in infinite different tokens with near-infinite scalability. TokenStrike is a protocol being built in the PKT ecosystem that enables this kind of functionality. Its purpose is so people can easily tokenize bandwidth with near-zero issuance cost and near-zero gas fees. 

How does the PKT ecosystem invest in network development? Is this the purpose of the Network Steward? Which strategies have proven to be successful so far?

In projects like Bitcoin and Litecoin, it’s really hard for the project to fund any kind of development, so the technology advances slowly. Then you have projects like Ethereum and FileCoin where there’s a big premine to pay for development, but you have to trust that the founding team is the right team for the job. PKT took kind of a hybrid approach; there’s no premine, ICO, or anything like that, so to pay for helping advance the PKT technology development and the wider mesh networking and internet, there is an institution called the Network Steward. 20% of every mined block goes to an address which is controlled by a council of 5 people and this council allocates funds in a transparent way through open competitive grants so the actual work can be done by anyone in the community. In addition, there are two mechanisms in the code that restrict the activities of the Network Steward itself. First, funds that have not been transferred for 90 days are burned by the blockchain so they can never be used again. Secondly, there is a voting system through which PKT holders may express their dislike for the Network Steward, and if more than 50% of all PKT existing at that time is against them, it will trigger an election whereby an entirely different Network Steward may be selected. Clearly, getting 50% of the coin-holders to agree on anything is a tall order, and burned coins still count though they can’t vote, so this “impeachment” feature is really a last resort. But in case the Network Steward were ever to become actively harmful to the project, there is a mechanism of control where the community could rally to remove them without a hard fork. The Network Steward has funded such projects as the open source block explorer, multiple open-source wallets, and TokenStrike, to name a few.

What are your expectations with respect to the future utility of PKT Network and PKT Cash?

Right now, we’re working on getting internet sharing and VPN technologies to be production quality, and at the same time we’re working on the Lightning Network integration into the wallets so that transactions can be nearly instant and free. Once TokenStrike comes into the mix, we’ll be able to bootstrap an actual bandwidth marketplace.

And, finally, what is your strategic outlook for the forthcoming year of 2022?

Like I said, what we’re doing is we’re building a community around a coordinated plan to make the internet effectively impossible to shut off and to help get more people onto the internet. These are the goals to where our sights are set.

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