In the light of the past decades, the disturbing era of mass surveillance has been evidently proving the significance of one’s privacy. However, given the complexity of the subject, we tend to remain blatantly unaware of the scenery-changing power brought with the advent of algorithms and concealed data collection. In regard to this, on June 10, BIT hosted an Open Networks Webinar, aiming to shed some light in the context of messaging services, the future of machinery-human communication, data sovereignty, and the benefits of decentralized communication platforms.
Throughout the webinar, we were pleased to witness the emergence of intensive discussion in the chat where our attendees kept on addressing numerous questions we simply could not overlook. So, our suggestion is to prepare a cup of tea (a subject is open to discussion, of course) and go through the compliance of Bram's insights you might have missed. PS: if you scroll long enough, you might come across a link to the webinar recording. We are not sure.
Q: Can we make an open network open source so that everyone can connect to the chat on their own accord?
A: Yes, that's possible! In fact, there's not necessarily a good reason not to do make the protocol public. Having an agreed way of communicating is called an open standard, and nearly every open network uses an open standard to guarantee transparency and data sovereignty.
Q: Can we combine the open network Matrix with blockchain or smart-contracts?
A: No. Blockchain and open networks are both decentralized, but that's pretty much the only thing they have in common. Blockchain is based on the trust that people on the internet usually behave nicely, whereas open networks do not require you to trust anyone but yourself. Blockchain can cost copious amounts of energy, whilst open networks are focused on allowing safe communication on even the most lightweight devices.
Comparison of open communication with cryptocurrency or blockchain is not recommended in any case, as they are two completely separate subjects, and neither influences the other's benefits or downsides.
Q: What about security on an open network?
A: Security can be a challenge on an open network - if there isn't one dominant authority ruling overall conversations, then who decides who gets to talk in which chat? There are several layers of challenges that an open network needs to think of, but most of them are already well thought through. The rule of thumb is that communication only happens if everyone agrees to have a conversation, so information will only be sent if you're okay with it.
Q: Can Matrix be connected to Signal?
A: Yes. As can it be connected to WhatsApp, Discord, Telegram, Microsoft Teams, email, SMS, RocketChat, WeChat, iMessage, Slack, and many more.
Q: When you talk to someone across a bridge, does that mean your data opened up to the security/privacy of the closed network on the other side?
A: Yes, but not in the same way. When you use a closed network's app, (like WhatsApp) all kinds of metadata are being sent: identification of your online status, whose messages you're reading, whose profile picture you're staring at, and probably some more information that you may not even be aware of.
If you use Matrix, however, the information can still be read by the closed network, but only the information that you consciously choose to send. Namely, if you only send the message that your favourite colour is blue, WhatsApp only gets that message - nothing else. If you REALLY don't want to send anything to WhatsApp itself, then you simply cannot talk to people on WhatsApp. In that case, it would be better to contact them through a different platform or to convince them to use a different platform.
Q: How is access over bridges regulated?
A: Bridges are regulated by whoever built the bridge. So, if you built your own bridge, you get to decide who can or cannot use it.
Communication only happens consensually, so others will only use your bridge if they explicitly consent to send their data elsewhere.
Q: Where do I start with Matrix?
A: I wrote a guide on how you as an individual can join Matrix and try it for yourself here.
On Matrix, there are several public rooms where people constantly discuss integrating Matrix, and many people are happy to help you out. Including me, you can contact me here if you would like to hear some tips!
If you want to start integrating Matrix into your company, look into providers who can host Matrix for you or start hosting Matrix yourself! I would recommend starting to host at a small scale and see how it works for you - once you think that it's the right moment to transition, you can start a slow transition from a closed network to an open one!
Oh, I see, you really made it to the very end. Then, just as promised, in case you missed the webinar or just feel like listening to Bram's voice again (it's hypnotizing, we know), you can find the full video on our YouTube channel here. In case you still have some questions down the sleeves, don't hesitate to join an open conversation through Discord, Telegram, or Matrix and address them all. Stay tuned!