Mahatma and The Blockchain

29 Oct 2018 | blockchain data privacy

Originally posted on medium

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On 12th March 1930, a bony Mahatma heads from his ashram in Ahmadabad to walk towards a coastal village of Dandi to break a law. This played an instrumental part in the making of the biggest democratic country in the world. This act of nonviolent civil disobedience shares its fundamental values with the “Blockchain Revolution”.

What is this Value, how has it transcended in time and what can we learn from history?

(Feel free to jump right on the What we can Learn from the Past section if you wish)

The walk of revolt -What the past was

Dandi March or Dandi Satyagrah was an act of disobedience to the British by the means of producing salt from the seawater in the coastal village of Dandi. This was a revolt towards the monopoly the British empire tried to create on salt production in areas with long history and culture of household salt production using seawater.

Through a series of laws, the Indian populace was prohibited from producing or selling salt independently, and instead Indians were required to buy expensive, heavily taxed salt that was often imported. This affected the great majority of Indians, who were poor and could not afford to buy it.

As history has it and Wikipedia documents it:

British documents show that the British government was shaken by satyagraha. Nonviolent protest left the British confused about whether or not to jail Gandhi. John Court Curry, a British police officer stationed in India, wrote in his memoirs that he felt nausea every time he dealt with Congress demonstrations in 1930. Curry and others in British government, including Wedgwood Benn, Secretary of State for India, preferred fighting violent rather than nonviolent opponents.

The fundamental ideology of this satyagrah was to fight against the monopolization of a pubic resource. This is also the fundamental ideology behind creating a decentralised application or Dapp.

Today the Colonial power is replaced by huge corporations like Alphabet or Facebook, inc. and the public resource Salt is replaced by Data. Yes, data. If comparing data to a natural resource like salt sounds odd to you, hear me out.

Data as a Resource

A resource is defined as

A useful or valuable possession or quality of a country, organization, or person-Cambridge University Press

If we break that definition we find two characteristics of resource, i.e. value and possession.

Data is definitely useful and valuable.We know that. According to the European Commission, by 2020 the value of personalized data will be 1 trillion euros, almost 8% of the EU’s GDP. If you’re running an organised business in 2018 there is a 99% you use or have used data to improve your business proposition.

The second part, possession, is a little tricky. Who does the data belong to? When we provide our location to google maps to provide us an estimated time to destination, the traffic near us, attractions near us, etc. Do they own our location data? Should they be allowed to sell it to services like Uber and swiggy?

Till a long time no one cared. And even now debates have reached no consensus (this, that, here and there). So we won’t touch upon that topic.

What we’re concerned about is the concentration of this resource in one hand.

The Data Monopoly

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The internet, much like the sea salt production, started as a decentralised system. Every website enterprise owned its own server and hosted its own data. This made keeping data from users expensive and so only very relevant data was gathered. But as HaaS took over, websites started running on rented memory and were hosted on rented servers; making economies of scale possible and hence made storage cheap. This resulted in the ability to collect data that was thought to be unfeasible before.

Years later, we live in the era where 45% of the cloud services industry is owned by Amazon Web System. The S3 system alone is used by 148,213 sites, according to market research firm SimilarTech. This means Amazon server farms have your Netflix history, Reddit karma, Airbnb rental details, Coursera certificates, Spotify preferences, SoundCloud preferences, Scribd read history, LinkedIn profile, etc etc etc.

“When Amazon sneezes, the Internet catches a cold” -Klemens von Metternich

Facebook has aggressively acquired social media platforms that posed as a distraction from its platform. Be it Instagram or WhatsApp. Some would argue that is just pure business. But turning WhatsApp’s encryption algorithms without old users consent and copying snapchats IP(stories) with the help of IP law loopholes points at a much darker image.

Google has also adopted similar aggressive take overs, acquiring companies like DoubleClick, YouTube, and Pyra Labs, creator of blogging platform Blogger and many others. and has unethical gathered our data.

The problem with monopolies

“Ok cool. Google is forming a monopoly, but it helps me avoid that traffic on the streets everyday! What’s the harm?”

The problem is that even though the data is generated by all of us, it can be harnessed or converted into value only by Google. This means that even if I wanted to, had the skills to and/or needed to harness the power of that data I could not. Because the big corps have kept it for themselves. Much like the peasants of Dandi couldn’t harness their seawater to get salt because the British wanted it for themselves.

Not only that, concentration of resources in one place often leads to a lot of power being concentrated in that place. And when a great amount of power is concentrated the chances that it might be misused rise. A prolific example of that is the Facebook and Cambridge analytica case this year.

To give another example of how monopolies can be dangerous to the society, take this into consideration. I tried Searching “is google a monopoly?” on google as well as in google chorme’s incognito mode.

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You can see that Google’s results differ from duckduckgo’s results. Google tries to make an article, which ranks 2nd on duckduckgo, the main focus of the landing page. This could be related with the fact that that article denounces any argument towards Google being a monopoly.

This becomes very problematic when it happens with political ideas, parties and personalities.

How blockchain fits in

A Blockchain is the data structure that can power a decentralised internet. It plays a pivotal role in making platforms and architectures that support the decentralisation of decision making (consensus) and resources (data). Therefore it can prove to be the technology that finally develops into something that allows a truly decentralised infrastructure to sustain and perform.

Popular and newer blockchains like Ethereum and Neo are turning out to be Turing complete. That gives rise to decentralised applications(Dapps) and decentralised autonomous organisations(DOA). This is the weapon we have in this digital fight against monopoly.

Decentralised architecture is the weapon for this Digital Satyagrah

Decentralising the internet would ensure that value from the resource of data can be generated by whomsoever is capable of doing so, i.e. remove the barrier to entry in the big data revolution. This way profits don’t come in the way of innovation and the whole community grows together.

Decentralisation will also reduce the malpractice of collecting data in an unethical manner. This will happen because in a truly decentralised application the data or the program won’t be stored privately. This will make code auditing very easy and could be done by anyone. The most ethical program will have the users and hence it will survive.

With Dapps and DOAs we can harness the value of the data that we create directly.

A prime example of this is Steemit Blockchain. It is a decetralised architecture that incentivises both content creation and content moderation. To get a deeper understanding you should definitely read the SteemIt whitepaper. TLDR: Its an alternative to Reddit where you get paid for posting and liking and commenting on posts.

What we can learn from the past

“The Dandi March of 1930 was an act of nonviolent civil disobedience.”

The Salt March began with around 80 people, but as more and more people joined in for the 390 km-long journey, it grew into a strong force of 50,000 people. But not once, even after continuous instigation from the British officers, did even a single person turn violent. Had even one marcher raised his hand, the British wold have gotten their green flag to retaliate with violence. That would have ended the the march, the movement, and the hopes it brought to the people.

A common understanding of the goal is what led the Salt Satyagrah to its victory and that is exactly what we need in the Digital Satyagrah as well. But developers and companies that are here to cash-in on the “Blockchain Hype” have derailed the Satyagrah. They’ve made the “Mockchains” and the “Shitcoins” and most ludicrous of all a “Private blockchain”. That to me is the most alarming oxymoron.

This can be regarded to the clear absence of a leadership that tells the community what the right direction is. Since our leader is a pseudonym, its difficult to achieve. BUT WAIT. This is not a mistake of Satoshi, it is his genius. How can a revolt against Centralisation of Power have a leader?

The Salt Satyagrah was successful which contributed to the independence of the nation. BUT Indiastill struggles to put food on the plate of 276 million people. Poor leadership has been and is still a huge issue in India(This, That, Here, There, Everywhere). So what Satoshi did was remarkably genius and should be appreciated more than it already is.

What his “revolution” needs is simple. Code as a Leader. Code that the community wrote. Code that won’t develop a brittle ego. Code that will never forget. And code that will always deliver.

Code as a Leader

What Code as a Leader means is that the community is given a direction in the form of programs and platforms that they can then build on. These Platforms Should also be community built and, to lay down the obvious, should be public and not private.

How this helps is related to the very core of blockchain. TRUSTLESS. A code takes the trust factor out of the equation of community and leadership. Only then can the leader truly be a representative. Only then can the leader be sure to lead-from-the-behind. And this will guarantee that the leader delivers.

Ethereum is very close to this. It is a community driven platform. But the community is yet to discover the power of a decentralised Operating system as a whole. But its nothing to lose hope over. This is all just the part of the process of growth. Growth towards what will be known as the Digital Satyagrah.

The road to a decentralised internet still has a long way to go. But as Robert Frost said:

I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep


  1. This is not a debate about whether the facts we know about the Salt Satyagrah are true or not. Here I talk about what the satyagrah stands for.
  2. whether or not Gandhi was the leader for the Salt Satyagrah or not, was a patriot or not did lead us to freedom or not is none of the concerns of this article. Someone led the march.
  3. The Bhagva(saffron) on the first image is accidental and does not refer to association with any individual or group. (Had to get that out there)