The next generation of privacy protection in the digital world

Must know project: HOPR

As our world grows increasingly digitized, our economic system has become precariously built upon a foundation of insecure data. In the lengthy scope of human history, technological privacy inventions, as well as legal privacy protections, are relatively young. The Right to Privacy was first introduced in American legal discourse in 1890, where Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis articulated that the concept of privacy essentially boils down to a “right to be left alone.” Since then, our definition and understanding of privacy has expanded, as it has come to be understood as a pre-requirement for freedom and security. 

Today there is often a general disinterest among the public when confronted with privacy related issues, since our privacy is often compromised without our knowledge. Some believe that our need for privacy has evolutionary roots, where security concerns were paramount for survival. For many, the feeling of being watched online by institutions lacks the feeling of personal violation that  comes with being spied on by strangers in three-dimensional space. Unfortunately, our instinctual, real-world privacy concerns do not always translate to the online world. Reacting to modern privacy invasions requires a cerebral and complex understanding of data harvesting and other questionable intrusive practices.

When our human instincts fail to protect us against the encroachment of the large technology companies who are constantly gaming the consent-based system of data collection, innovation on the privacy-protection front becomes necessary. Regulatory efforts have often proven insufficient, as the responsibility to self-educate and self-protect is placed on consumers. One of the surest ways to protect one’s online identity is to maintain anonymity, an aspiration that has been quite effectively realized via the Tor browser.  

Tor is a mixnet which scrambles network communications and provides users with the benefits of anonymous internet browsing. This vast system of defense against traffic analysis has been long maintained by roughly 4000 node runners who are presumably incentivized by the altruistic impulse to keep Tor’s network running.

Like TOR, the Swiss cryptocurrency and data privacy company HOPR also utilizes anonymizing cryptographic techniques to combat systems of surveillance. What makes this company particularly distinct is their mixnet, in contrast to TOR’s onion routes, as well as their unique, cryptocurrency incentivization structure. For transmitting data through the HOPR network, node runners are rewarded in HOPR’s native token $HOPR for their honest efforts. 

HOPR’s identical nodes improve upon one of the most notable vulnerabilities within TOR’s network- their reliance upon gateway nodes. Unlike TOR’s network, HOPR does not have an on/off ramp via gateway nodes. TOR’s current scarcity of exit nodes is indicative of a serious scalability and incentivization problem. This is evidenced by their network having only 50 exit nodes currently running.

Whereas TOR’s onion-layered packets change in size and structure throughout their journey to an exit node, HOPR’s sphinx packet format renders mixed packets indistinguishable, granting the HOPR network a higher standard of anonymity than TOR. These technical differences might seem insignificant, but they might prove to be the difference between a secure and insecure network. 

The ambition and scale of HOPR’s project is unparalleled, making them one of the most exciting privacy-related projects today. Should their project achieve mass adoption, it could prove fundamental to securing the entire web3 infrastructure. 

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