Recently, Bloomberg published an article written by Paul Ford in which immutability, one of the key features of blockchain technology was called into question. Ford uses the example of Hulk Hogan’s case against Gawker to prove his point. The thought experiment Ford recurs to is interesting and should be explored further. His point is that if Gawker had been a blockchain-based magazine, Peter Thiel – who supported Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker supposedly because he disliked the magazine – wouldn’t have been able to take the business down. A court order to take down the illegal sex tapes Gawker published, which Hogan was entitled to, wouldn’t have been possible either if the magazine was blockchain-based.
Blockchain Immutability Was Designed to Underpin a Peer to Peer Electronic Form of Cash
There is no doubt that Blockchain immutability is a double-edged sword. That is mainly because this technology was not created to underpin a magazine; it was developed to support a trust-less peer to peer form of electronic cash. Immutability in that case is key, and protecting it is fundamental for the functionality of a system in which there are no intermediaries. Everyone must have access to the distributed ledger to verify where the funds come from and where they are going.
Nevertheless, once the technology is out there, people will use it in any way they see fit, regardless of what it is designed for. Therefore, the cat is out of the bag, and the Gawker case serves as a precedent. Publications that might fall victim to the same kind of censorship – even if under the legal framework the plaintiff has a right to have the data removed – are probably looking at blockchain’s immutability to protect their freedom of speech.
Blockchain Goes Beyond Immutability
But beyond the virtues – and drawbacks – of immutability, blockchain technology offers an additional challenge to the legal system that destroyed Gawker while rightfully protecting Hulk Hogan’s privacy. Any publication on a truly decentralized public blockchain, cannot even be prosecuted. There will be no visible figure head to suit and no address to deliver the necessary court documents to either. The writers just as the data, will be all over the world in a variety of jurisdictions, getting paid for their work through the execution of smart contracts and keeping their identities to themselves.
Blockchain Immutability is Just the Tip of the Iceberg
These new dynamics force us to look beyond how desirable immutability is for the system. We should instead look inwards towards ourselves; the solution will not necessarily come from the system. Operating in a world in which blockchain technology will become ubiquitous, we must be more responsible with our data. That includes everything we capture with our cameras. We should think about every single digital input we produce as something that will be stored on an immutable blockchain, and make sure we do not share nor expose it if we might ever regret producing it.