Polkadot Forum transcript: The Road to Privacy & Web3 on-chain Communication, 2022

Dr. Tali Režun

The Talk overview
Whenever we speak about privacy we consider it a topic important to us. Securing your digital email & messaging communications should be your highest priority when going online. Blockchain has always offered the promise of enabling private, immutable W2W communication while retaining data and identity ownership, it is by design the perfect privacy tool. The session will take us through four years of innovation, diving deep into 4thTech project R&D and discovering the progress and challenges of building privacy-enabled W2W Web3 communication infrastructure.

The internet changed the way we live, it opened the highway to unlimited communication and revolutionized access to information, but it failed greatly in regard to our digital freedom and privacy. Whenever we speak about privacy we consider it a topic important to us. We give away our privacy on a daily basis and as the saying goes

“The internet changed the way we live, it opened the highway to unlimited communication and revolutionized access to information, but it failed greatly in regard to our digital freedom and privacy.”

Securing your digital communications should be your highest priority when going online. There are just way too many threats to trust any company with your private data. Companies don’t care if they expose your digital life to harassment, scammers, fraud, and data mining advertisers.

Blockchain has always offered the promise of enabling private, immutable W2W communication while retaining data and identity ownership, it is by design the perfect privacy tool. However, it could never really take off due to early-generation blockchains’ scalability, slow time to finality and cost constraints. But there are also other challenges to consider. I think that the main challenge after establishing a low-cost scalable infrastructure goes to finding appropriate use cases. There is also a challenge of user migration from “free, but non-private” Web2 communication platforms to payable but private Web3 infrastructure. I believe that with innovative incentive onboarding models and the coming Web3 mobile technology this barrier could also be overcome.

“I also believe that with the rise of privacy awareness and Web3 adoption in general, the on-chain W2W email & messaging could become the dominant communication and as such will be the future of private online communication. The privacy and security native to Web3 are just too good to be overlooked.”

4thTech is the Block Labs project that develops Web3 W2W communication infrastructure. When you think about 4thTech and what value it delivers, it really is quite straightforward. There are two major value propositions:

Number one is on the product side. We released quite some products over the years such as the Web3 email and the on-chain chat, that enable users to utilise the blockchain to exchange emails, messages or data from wallet to wallet in a safe and private way. So basically we are utilising blockchain to enable privacy in online communication, which is now non-existing in traditional applications.

The second value proposition is more behind the scenes and is probably more important with solutions such as; (1) the SDK framework that’s enabling any project to integrate the dMail and dChat layers into their platform UIs or their wallets; (2) or the X.509 digital identity on-ramping to Web3, where we developed a system that enables users to connect their X.509 digital identities with blockchain wallets, verifying them at the same time. It’s an important step towards on-chain identification, data notarization and similar, but we will talk about that a little bit later.

We spent the last 4 years developing the 4thTech foundations, which are built around privacy and ecosystem integrations. Privacy by design was our guiding approach when building 4thTech. That simply means that we put the consideration of how we could preserve privacy, guarantee protection, and obfuscate metadata to the largest possible degree at the forefront of all our Architectural decisions. At the same time, no personal data whatsoever is collected by 4thTech. We were able to build the multi-chain framework that is Ethereum, Polkadot and Solana interoperable and enables on-chain email and messaging that is private, secure, censorship-resistant, and immutable.

SDK, White labels & Broadcasting client
An Ecosystem can only thrive when solutions are not built in isolation. We have our own UI for the dMail and dChat but see the maximum potential in ecosystem-wide adoption. Any supported blockchain network app that is looking to include W2W communication features will be able to integrate email and chat functionalities into its platform through our white labels and SDK.

With massive communities emerging surrounding popular DeFi, NFT, Gaming and DAO platforms the need for social communication is increasing. In regards to social interaction messaging is on the top of the list. But in the decentralized ecosystem, you also need a decentralized email and messaging solution. W2W communication opens a whole new chapter in social interaction that is just not possible within the current Web2 framework. We will dive into this topic a little bit later when we go over solution-specific features.

Our R&D took us in three different directions, 4thTech already enables UI white-label dMail & dChat, so partner projects can enable social communication within their communities, but a dedicated SDK (i.e. software development kit) framework will enable direct UI integration, so partner project communities will be able to communicate within their favourite UIs or wallets.

We are also working on a stand-alone desktop app that would enable privacy-sensitive users to send or receive E2EE emails via an underlining blockchain network using their existing traditional email client apps such as Microsoft Outlook or Apple Mail.

Product Features
Although our primary focus is on privacy, security, and censorship resistance of emails and messaging, we do not want to neglect the UI and UX aspect of giving our users a great experience using the chat or email which would have a similar look and feel like their favourite traditional email or messaging app but with crypto-specific features.

Deployments & History
We spent over 4 years developing the multi-chain communication building blocks, which are deployed on various Layer 1s. As time passed, some of the chosen L1s did not pan out due to extreme transaction fees or scalability issues. We are searching for the perfect fit in regards to network decentralization, performance, microtransaction cost and transaction finality. Here is where we really learned the crucial importance of blockchain stability and scaling.

There was quite some experimental Web3 development done from 2018 to 2020. For example; We developed the on-chain data notarisation for the EU commission grant program and the connection option between X.509 identity certificate and on-chain wallet address, both developments led to new extremely useful use cases:

We developed an X.509-to-Web3 ID protocol that can provide wallet address verification by creating a link between an X.509 user’s online identity and blockchain wallet address. For those of you who are not familiar standard, the X.509 digital certificate standard is widely supported across Europe and the world and can be used for online banking, data encryption, notarization of signed data, and digital signatures, basically for all online ID-related tasks.

If used together, both the X.509-to-Web3 ID protocol and the decentralized notary protocol can become very useful:

Just to clarify, there are three main parts of a data notarisation process;
1. Verified identity
2. The data source or origin conformation
3. Timestamp

We can verify the on-chain identity with our X.509-to-Web3 protocol, while our on-chain dNotary protocol provides origin data verification using the file checksum method while it gets the time stamp from the blockchain transaction itself.

Opposite to permissionless identity used by users in a decentralised Web3 environment, organisations need a connection between off-chain and on-chain identity, so this is where X.509-to-Web3 ID protocol comes in handy because when blockchain technology will go mainstream, organisations will need to be able to identify the users, so this could be one of the ways to do it, as X.509 is already an established online identity supported by the EU and world states. Let me just add that our X.509-to-Web3 ID protocol is Ethereum, Polkadot & Solana interoperable.

To establish the standard that will enable privacy in online W2W on-chain communication, a fast, low-cost public blockchain is needed. There are various deployment scenarios in the thinktank; (1) The deployment of 4thTech smart contracts on all suitable (i.e. low-cost, scalable protocols with fast transaction finality) major chains, would enable seamless and permissionless SDK integration for any Web3 project that wants to integrate dMail or dChat layers no matter what it’s native chain is; (2) application-specific, fast, low-cost side chains could enable a stable framework for W2W on-chain communication, and; (3) a combination of multi-chain deployment and application-specific side chain could be the answer.

Without going into too many details, let us say that we wanted to design our architecture to be as lightweight as possible. This means that we wanted to keep all user communications on-chain. The message history and archive are kept on local storage and by user choice, can be synchronized on decentralized storage. So the only party with access to his private messaging data is the user himself. Users have full control over their messaging data which are all E2EE. Every wallet becomes your on-chain identity and data vault that only you control, the messaging app is completely immutable and censorship-resistant.

This is the model framework that guarantees privacy but at the same time demands a stable, scalable, low-cost blockchain to be able to process so many transactions because for this model to work every message requires its transaction.

What we learned?
We learned that blockchain can enable private, immutable W2W communication while at the same time it can retain data and identity ownership, and we learned that in fact, it is by design the perfect privacy tool. We learned that due to stability and scalability issues, early-generation blockchains can not sustain the on-chain communication infrastructure. We know that user migration from “free non-private” Web2 communication platforms to payable, but private Web3 infrastructure will be challenging, and we are searching for new incentive onboarding models and applicable use cases.

To conclude, after nearly 5 years of R&D solving the privacy and security in online communication, I would say that technologically speaking we are going in the right direction. This challenge cannot be solved overnight. I’m recognizing new possibilities surrounding new generation application-specific blockchains that are emerging that were just not available back in 2018. We already did an amazing job setting the foundations and securing privacy in dMail and dChat communication compared to the current centralised systems, but now we also know what the next technological steps are that could lead to the adoption of this privacy-enabled communication tech. With the rise of privacy awareness, Web3 mobile and Web3 adoption in general, on-chain E2EE W2W communication could become the dominant standard.

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