[Freedombox-discuss] Dumb idea: Alternative to Tor that promotes good behavior

Bill Cox waywardgeek at gmail.com
Mon Oct 28 01:13:59 UTC 2013

On 10/27/2013 6:42 PM, Daniel Kahn Gillmor wrote:
> On 10/27/2013 01:26 PM, Bill Cox wrote:
>> Here's the problem: Tor has little public support, because most Tor
>> traffic is wasted on supporting bad behavior.
> I don't think that's the main reason Tor has little public support.  I 
> think Tor has little public support because using Tor is slower and 
> less convenient than not using Tor, and people (at least in the USA) 
> seem to value convenience above most other things.

Granted, that's why we don't use Tor.  However, I thought I read there 
are only around 3,000 Tor nodes.  That's pretty wimpy.  I may be too 
lazy to encrypt my traffic, but I'm perfectly happy to spend some of my 
money supporting free speech.  I just don't want to also support 
griefers and leechers.

>> Here's my solution: Build a Tor-like network for routing anonymous data,
>> but track behavior of all users' secret identities, and make their
>> Internet history public.  Allow node operators to choose categories of
>> public identities they which to support.
> This would not be anonymous data.  You're asking people to publish 
> their full internet histories for the privilege of being able to use 
> the network.  Are you aware of the work being done toward 
> de-anonymization of rich data sets?  I think many people's web 
> browsing habits alone would be sufficient to discover their physical 
> identity with relatively high certainty.  Even if we were to assume 
> that the data was not possible to tie back to someone's physical 
> location to put them in harm's way, if their network use patterns are 
> how they do their activism, then publishing their network use patterns 
> provides an adversary with a lot of information that is very helpful 
> to disrupt this same activity (e.g. "Which web sites do they usually 
> use to distribute their [tools|analysis|incitements]?  Which chat 
> channels do they frequent?  Where/how do they get their e-mail?  Can 
> we destroy or subvert those services?)

OK, so scratch out the idea of keeping internet histories.  It does 
sound too dangerous.  Instead, rely on the web of trust model similar to 
what we see in the original Ripple e-money system.  Maybe enhance it 
with a reputation system based on recommendations.

>> For example, I would choose to promote all forms of non-violent free
>> speech.  I should be able to contribute my bandwidth to this purpose.
>> If a dissident in China goes by the public ID of ChinaCat, and has a
>> high reputation for promoting freedom, they are welcome to use my
>> bandwidth.  If someone just wants access to redtube.com, they can get
>> that access from someone else.
> If you prefer this, then you should personally make arrangements with 
> ChinaCat directly.  I'm not convinced that you could ever make such an 
> arrangement scale cleanly without gross oversimplifications that 
> wouldn't meet many people's assumptions about what the terms mean.  Is 
> a sit-in at a restaurant "non-violent free speech"?  What about a work 
> stoppage at a factory?  how about when the workers barricade the 
> factory against its owners?  What about people who sabotage or destroy 
> machinery in their factory?  What about destruction of machinery that 
> is prepared to destroy desparately needed housing stock?  What about 
> people who smash the windows of low-wage corporate franchises? What 
> about smashing the windows and doors of fire-prone sweatshops?  Are 
> all of these things non-violent free speech?  can you imagine that 
> someone else might have a different answer for any of them than you do?

You're probably right.  We could instead provide controls similar to 
OpenDNS where access to sites may be blocked by some exit and routing 
nodes.  I don't think this would be a huge complication. Also, users 
could be rated by other users in different categories. For example, on 
LinkedIn, people verify that I know about FPGAs. I'm not sure if a 
routing policy should depend on such ratings, as it might give me some 
clue about who is using my router.

>> There are various technical aspects to this idea.  For example, would
>> prefer that the social graph between secret identities be public so I
>> can use a simple network flow algorithm over trust edges between
>> identities to determine how much I trust someone.
> I think it would be worthwhile to spec out such an algorithm, and then 
> think through the spec under a handful of real-world use cases.  what 
> does it mean to do "network flow over trust edges"? What specifically 
> does "trust" mean in this context?  Can you give an example of how 
> that would let you automatically determine how much you trust 
> someone?  What does that kind of automated trust discovery mean from a 
> human perspective?  What are the ways it could be exploited by an 
> adversary intent on causing trouble?
> sorry to be a pessimist, but i'm not convinced this is an effective or 
> even desirable framework.

No worries about pessimism.  That's the natural environment new ideas 
live in, or in this case, probably a regurgitated old idea.

I'm a fan of the original Ripple e-money algorithm (not this new stuff 
designed to make the authors rich).  Users have nodes in the trust 
graph, and can specify that they "trust" other users up to some maximum 
monetary value.  Simply based on these trust relationships, an economy 
with e-money based on this trust is possible.  I would love to enable 
micro-transactions in a Ripple system, where I might pay 10 microcents 
for 100KB of data bandwidth (or whatever the going rate is).  I could 
also have my FreedomBox pay for at least it's electricity and bandwidth 
while hosting encrypted backups or helping people download from 
BitTorrent faster.  It's one thing to say "I trust that guy a lot".  
It's another to say "Let him put $10 on my tab."  It forces us to put 
trust in terms of dollars, and that's when we find out that to one guy 
"absolute trust" is worth about 10 cents, while "medium trust" is worth 
$100 to someone else.  If a griefer attacked one of my web sites, I 
might place a negative trust edge against him, claiming he owes me 
damages for the griefing.

In terms of automated trust discovery, I'm frankly against it. We're 
talking anonymous people out there, and they have to earn trust.  To do 
that, your FreedomBox could host a web site for me, or help transfer 
files, or backup my data, or you could even simply pay me a few cents.  
With a tit-for-tat algorithm, I would trust you back, plus a little 
extra, over time.  So if we've done $100 in business in the past, I 
might be willing to lend you $1, no questions asked.  If there are other 
reasons I want to trust you, for example if we've exchanged e-mails and 
I've become convinced we share certain goals, then I could manually 
increase the trust value.

An adversary would have great difficulty scamming people and taking 
their money in a Ripple network.  The protocol has been running live for 
years, and I wont go into the details, but it's a hardy algorithm.  
However, an adversary who just wants to know our true identities could 
gain useful insights by analyzing the trust graph. People who trust each 
other more are more likely to be electrically close to each other, and 
when people manually set a trust relationship, you can assume they have 
somehow interacted.  If an adversary takes some step like giving a lot 
of money to a terrorist group, then they might identify members of that 
group based on who increases their trust relationship afterwards.

However, I've seen these same arguments made against BitCoin, and an 
adversary with a lot of nodes in the Tor network (like the NSA) might be 
able to determine identities based on packet timing. Overall, I suspect 
we may be able to do a better job promoting freedom if we were to build 
such a network.


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