The privacy revolution: DePINs are shifting the balance of power

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Let no one say privacy is for criminals and get away with it. We’ve tried defending our privacy forever, from whispers, curtains, and closed doors to cryptography. More importantly, ‘privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age,’ as the Cypherpunk Manifesto rightly noted way back in the early 1990s. But despite projects like Tor and Bitcoin, we haven’t solved the world’s privacy problem for good. Why? Because digital privacy requires a social contract—no one has it unless everyone does.

Complicated, hi-tech anonymity systems won’t help right away. They’re too clunky and impractical from a day-to-day perspective. Mainstream users don’t need or aspire to secrecy. Instead, they would prefer seamless solutions that make the pursuit of privacy invisible on the outside. 

Decentralized physical infrastructure networks (DePIN) are vital to achieving this balance. We’re finally building the core infrastructure, and it is necessary to support diverse consumer-facing, privacy-prioritized tools. Boosting adoption this way, we’ll have the social contract for privacy at scale. 

Recent data breaches tell a story

Between November 2023 and February 2024, a third-party ransomware attack exposed the addresses, names, social security numbers, etc., of over 57,000 Bank of America customers. In January 2024, Anthropic users lost ‘non-sensitive’ information when a company contractor emailed the information to a third party. 

Clop, a ransomware group, breached Fortra’s GoAnywhere file-transfer system in 2023, stealing medical data on more than one million patients across the US. The UK’s Royal Mail also collapsed for months that year following a privacy breach that exposed a range of sensitive data, from technical information to an employee’s COVID-19 vaccination records. 

MOVEit Transfer lost personal data on over 84 million individuals and organizations, including Oregon’s Transport Department, Colorado’s Health Care Policy and Financial Department, etc. This event was 2023’s most significant data breach.

Thus, centralized point-of-failure clearly connects the major privacy compromises that happened in 2023 and 2024 so far. Specifically, four out of five involve communication systems and methods. While most data is exposed in transit, the rest is lost from identifiable honey pots, i.e., centralized servers and databases. The privacy problem is an infrastructure problem. 

Now, the short answer to ‘who cares?’ is—everyone. We won’t have locks on our doors or passwords for our mobile devices otherwise. Or, we won’t have any problem letting others read conversations with our spouse. 

The anti-privacy narrative: who gains?

Criminals trade data on dark markets. It’s shocking how such information can be used against us in all kinds of scams. Finance writer Charlotte Cowles’ story is a glaring example. She lost $50,000. 

But hackers don’t peddle anti-privacy narratives or slander those seeking privacy. They research stealth systems, acquire high-capacity hardware, invest in sophisticated software, etc. Corporations and their high-authority friends are the ones criminalizing privacy and gaslighting users into giving up data control. Their maxim is, ‘If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.’

Data is the new oil. Advertisers spend billions on data that allows them to manipulate consumer behavior. AI companies use private and public data to train large language models (LLMs). We’re witnessing the unfolding of insidious social engineering at scale. To consider worst-case scenarios, insights from the Snowden Revelations are still relevant ten years on. The authorities want to know everything about us, hiding behind the name of national security, consumer protection, etc. Apparently, to protect us from ourselves. Actually, to exercise ever-increasing disciplinary control. 

If we care to look honestly, we can see glimpses of an impending dystopia every day, everywhere, mainly in digital realms. 

DePIN for a privacy-first future

Privacy is a fundamental human right, but we don’t get it naturally. We must fight those who reap massive sums from exploiting or criminalizing privacy. 

The consumer demand for privacy has grown in the past decade. Over 50% of respondents in a BCG survey said they’re uncomfortable sharing their data for personalized ads. OpenAI faced multiple class action lawsuits. One hundred million people watched The Social Dilemma. 

The supply side, however, has yet to catch up. Meaningful privacy often means using a common line interface (CLI) or some other complicated tech. DePINs fix that. Hardware centralization is why corporations can violate the individual’s privacy rights. We had no option but to use, say, Zoom’s centralized servers for video calling. 

Mainstream users didn’t have incentivized means to contribute their excess hardware resources or to use distributed, peer-to-peer systems for daily activities such as online meetings, events, etc. 

DePINs enable self-sustaining, reward-based frameworks for decentralized and open physical hardware management. We can call our friends and colleagues or send files securely without involving centralized intermediaries and data predators.

Per Messari, DePINs involve physical resource networks (PRNs) and digital resource networks (DRNs). That means decentralizing the entire physical–digital infrastructure is possible soon, if not right away. Coupled with other technical advancements—multi-party computation (MPC), zero-knowledge proofs (zKP), Libp2p, etc.—DePINs make privacy trustworthy but seamless. 

More people are willing and able to use products, services, and applications running on DePINs, given their hassle-free, user-friendly nature and rich user experience. By making privacy accessible to everyone, DePINs make it accessible to each. They lay the foundation for a privacy-first future—something we’ve pursued since the 90s, if not longer.

Ayush Ranjan

Ayush Ranjan

Ayush Ranjan is the co-founder and CEO of Huddle01, the decentralized, people-powered communication network. Before Huddle01, Ayush studied at The LNM Institute of Information Technology, earning a bachelor of technology in electronics and communications engineering. Huddle01 was born from the 2020 ETHGlobal Hackathon and now offers a communication infrastructure driving cross-chain audio and video at the convergence of web2 and web3 with its video conferencing dapp, audio spaces dapp, and seamless Google Calendar integration for scheduling.

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