When it comes to software that is designed to protect privacy of communication and identity, the most natural question that arises is one of trust. How can it be trusted? The most widely accepted answer to this question is the software that is openly available for public scrutiny is the one that can most easily be trusted. This is considered the gold standard because any proprietary, closed-source software may have existing security issues that are hidden and unable to be exposed publically. This latter form is often described as “security by obscurity”. If achieving the highest standard of trust in software was the singular consideration for a project, and gaining world-wide adoption and usage were secondary, then undoubtedly open-source would be the way to go. However it is the intent of this article to demonstrate that in special circumstances, certain trade-offs become necessary in order to achieve wider project goals.
Before we proceed further, let us reproduce below the 1984 Group’s response to this important question of why the Utopia software is not open-source, as taken from the FAQ section of their website:
“We may disclose certain parts of code, specifically related to communication and encryption. However, the decentralized protocol will not be released. Utopia is very knowledge-intensive software. A lot of time, effort and resources went into this product, and we do not want to share all of our know-how as it will result in forks which in turn may result in instability of our main network. Fork will lead to the division of the community, while our intention is the unification of the community of like-minded individuals. The bottom line here is that a lot of software is closed source, and this does not hurt them a bit. In addition, we will audit our code.”
Let us consider the examples of Gmail and Bitcoin. Both utilize open-source software and both may be considered to have succeeded by how widely they are used. However, one is a peer-to-peer protocol for digital currency, while the other is a centralized service for electronic mail. How did they each achieve their success if they are open-source and may be copied by anyone? The popular use of Gmail may be attributed in part to the ease with which the service functions, how well the software is designed, but there’s another critical component as well; the responsiveness of the service. Running such a centralized service for over a billion users has tremendous infrastructural resource costs that can only be covered by corporate behemoth of Google’s (or Alphabet’s) size. While it may be true that making the code behind the service open-source means that anyone can open a competing service, if they do not have the capital to compete, they will not get very far. Gmail succeeds as a centralized service even with open-source code, because the edge is in the ability to deliver the service, not the software itself.
What about Bitcoin; it has no such centralized crutch, how did it succeed while open-source? When Bitcoin was first released in early 2009, it had very little competition in the market because it was creating the market we now recognize as cryptocurrency. Early in its existence, most people did not see the value it was creating. It gained adoption and established its dominant network effect very slowly over time early on. If in those first few weeks and months we had the release of “Super Bitcoin”, “Bitcoin Gold” and “Bitcoin 2.0”, by teams that were well capitalized and motivated to sieze the market opportunity, would the original “Bitcoin” have had the room to grow that it did in those early days? That’s debatable, but its certainly not guaranteed. What if Satoshi Nakamoto had a team around him who had been working on Bitcoin for many years, developed the P2P potential of the protocol and was motivated by the possibility of redefining the internet as we know it, by empowering people to have completely private communication, association and commerce? Then we would have the 1984 Group, Utopia, and the perceived high risk of dividing the community and thereby hampering the overarching goal of the project. It is because of these special circumstances that the team chose the path that it did. The middle path they are attempting to navigate is one that involves an audit of their code to help establish that trust. But ultimately, they want to redefine the internet as we know it and in order to do that, they want to avoid the release of a “Utopia Private”. Who can blame them?
Originally Published By TheMerchant in TheMessage within the Utopia P2P Ecosystem in March of 2020. Upgrade your internet at https://u.is