TokenReporter: Blockchain as file storage

This is one where I started thinking the other day about the blockchain startups that have attempted to be Dropbox replacements. Just as I was thinking about that, I started to see others who were talking about using the Bitcoin blockchain for it, and realized that we’d had recent examples in Bitcoin SV that show what happens when you do. It was very much a moment for embarrassment and head-shaking, almost on par with this one we wrote about last year.


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Christ, what assholes

We've talked in the past about assholes using scantily clad women to market their shitty ICOs to wide-eyed marks who hear a too-good-to-be-true story that perfectly fills the empty hole where fulfillment and quiet, inner confidence ought to be.

And, we regularly hear the trope that cryptocurrency is really only necessary for illegal activity. That the only reason you'd want digital currency based on an immutable ledger is for nefarious acts – never mind that an immutable ledger is perhaps one of the stupidest tools to use in the commission of a crime, because it's there for all time as evidence, even if techniques like hierarchical keys and encryption keep work to keep identifying information private.

But this doesn't stop some trolls from doing abhorrent things anyway, in part to test the definition of 'immutable' and 'censorship-resistant', and part because, I imagine, they're just bad examples of human beings.

In the past, the Bitcoin blockchain has had links to kiddie exploitation added to it through OP_RETURN transactions. This was identified as early as 2013.

Recently, Bitcoin Satoshi's Vision (Bitcoin SV) increased the size of OP_RETURN transaction data limits from original Bitcoin's 80 bytes to 100KB. Money Button, a digital payments button for websites, wants to make it easy to pay with crypto because it's instant, it's almost free, and transactions can't be reversed or blocked. They supported the 100KB limit increase as recently as January 26, 2019.

OK, so it’s a file system

By January 31, criminals "posted illegal content on the blockchain using Money Button". Just days after the transaction limit increased. Life comes at you fast.

One of the criticisms of cryptocurrencies in general is that it gives people the opportunity to watch libertarians discover in real-time why we have the regulations around finance that we do. Not that regulations are wonderful, or perfect, but that they all existed because of some bad result that took place without them, that the unregulated (Regulated by math! Smart Contracts!) space gets to re-discover all over again.

So far, this sounds like an argument for keeping transaction data limits small. But that isn't the history of computing: the history of computing is one where prices come down over time, processing power grows over time, and data storage capacity increases over time.

Currently, we have a lot of valuable resources stored in relatively few places, and places that are in someone else's control: half the Internet runs on AWS. Huge amounts of code lives in Microsoft's Github. Other people have stored their docs in Google Docs or Dropbox.

What if instead of those, data – files, computer code, dead drops – were all stored immutably? Perhaps it doesn't make sense for everything, but it makes sense for some. Take computer code for example. Lots of computer programming references pre-existing code. Those preexisting pieces of code reference frameworks. In turn it goes, until there are some primitives.

It's already beginning. Pagereturn.com is a Bitcoin file upload site that proclaims, "Once it's on the blockchain, it's there forever.." Pagereturn had this conversation posted on the blockchain:

And this idea isn't completely unique. @coinyeezy talked about the idea of Bitcoin-as-the-computer on February 4, 2019. We used to talk about the idea of a network computer, as a terminal for servers on an intranet. Then, we started to talk about the idea of the Internet as a computer, using local machines to solve problems like SETI or Folding@home. Now, we're thinking of the concept that the blockchain becomes storage for applications, and code repository. One of my thoughts is, the hypothetical miners for appropriate code snippets get replaced with search indices.

Blockchain wasn't conceived of initially as a filesystem. It's clear we're bending it into one. Indexing, and the sorts of uses that can happen when there are no terms of service, no capabilities to erase, are going to come to pass. Expect it to be movie storage at some point, the realization of what the Pirate Bay posted years ago, when they said, “All attempts to attack The Pirate Bay from now on is an attack on everything and nothing. The site that you’re at will still be here, for as long as we want it to.”

The problem with that plan is that the cloud is just a computer you don't own. The cloud is AWS or Google, or mirrors around the world, which are in someone else's hosting, and connected to power and data. With Bitcoin's blockchain, each upload is immutable without getting everyone to agree on rolling back transactions, so movies uploaded to it would remain forever, in every copy of the blockchain. Every application or code snippet written would be available.

It's an interesting idea; what happens when things that were ephemeral, across storage types (floppies in 8-inch, 5.25, 3.5, 1.8), storage longevity (magnetic media, optical bit-rot), and the failing of computers with the ability to access storage, when that all ceases to be a problem? What if the Blockchain really is the modern-day Library at Alexandria? And what if it can't be destroyed this time around?