Since the rise of the internet, cyberpunks have been fighting for the right to privacy, also (and in particular) online. Bitcoin (BTC) is a good example of this: you can carry out transactions with each other unhindered.
The call for privacy in the field of sending messages is also growing.
If you keep an eye on the developments around Bitcoin, you have undoubtedly seen the Lightning Network pass by. The network functions as a second layer on the Bitcoin blockchain and makes it possible to send transactions at lightning speed. Very cool, but that’s not what I’m going to talk about today. Dutchman Joost Jager published a project this week that he has been working on for some time. It’s WHATSAT and it’s a messaging app (hence that name) based on the Lightning Network.
Does instant messaging over Lightning have killer application potential? The world needs censorship-resistant chatting and with Lightning, compensating the network for message relay comes naturally.https://t.co/TnLI4yjM16 pic.twitter.com/GseuU4KyZo
— Joost Jager (@joostjgr) November 2, 2019
Whatsat is a chat application that lets nodes on the Lightning Network send messages. A counterpart to WhatsApp, but then Facebook is not involved here. Nodes on LN make connections in order to be able to send BTC. The bonus: the network is a lot more anonymous to use than the base layer of bitcoin. Whatsat uses these techniques to send messages.
The application adds new/different data to transactions on the network. Instead of making payments, you send messages via the other nodes on the network to the recipient. To date, you can send these messages at no cost. But when this works, nodes can charge processing costs. That can be interesting if you want to earn extra satoshis with your node. In practice, you will soon be able to communicate encrypted with each other, via the Lightning Network and shielded from the rest of the world. If you want to try it out, you can. Check the Whatsat GitHub to get started on the Lightning test network.
Admittedly, It doesn’t look nearly as flashy as the popular chat apps, but it’s a nice start. Why? It is built on the Lightning Network and that makes it possible to send encrypted messages anonymously to each other, without anyone being excluded: censorship-free communication. In the Western world, censorship is apparently not a major problem, and in general, it is true, but there are places in the world where this is certainly not the case.
Yet there are still examples of censorship in the Western world. This week a Twitterer was banned from the platform within three minutes after he indicated that he was sitting on the plane hijacked at that time at Schiphol (which turned out to be a false alarm). This small example shows that censorship-free communication is not something that we can take for granted. Large companies such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter determine what we can and cannot say with their applications and potentially have access to all our data. In our daily lives, we are becoming more and more dependent on apps like this and Facebook’s plans to launch its own currency show that the end of this development is not yet in sight.
If we cross the borders to the greater China, we see that applications such as WeChat and AliPay are already being used by the government to monitor and, where possible, adjust citizens. In my opinion, it is not at all unlikely that governments in the West will also start using these options in the long term.
The WHATSAT prototype that Joost Jager came out with this week shows that we can build very special things on top of Bitcoin. If these cool applications come to the surface within two years of the launch of the Lightning Network, I am very curious about what the future will bring us. Does this decentralized version of WhatsApp show us a first glimpse of a decentralized society? Is the decentralized model going to win the battle of the Amazon, Facebook, and Google of this world? We will see! The fight seems to have definitely begun.