Keeping the bad guys out

By Johannes Ernst


Economies do better if anybody can trade with anybody.

Communication networks are much more useful if anybody can communicate with anybody.

In technology, “being open” is one of the magic words that instantly says “this works so much better because it works with others out there”. So in many technology circles, radical openness has become an article of absolute faith.

But what happens if there are crooks in an open economy who attempt to defraud honest people? We find them, and kick them out, that’s what happens, such as by putting them in jail. The economy may be open, but not to the crooks, so there are limits to that openness. (Imagine what would happen if we didn’t.)

What if some people send lots of spam on an open communication network such as e-mail? We block them, as well as we can, by blacklisting their computers and the spam they are trying to send us. Sometimes we put them in jail, too, if we can find them.

This of course mirrors what we do every day: you are welcome to bring a friend to my backyard BBQ, but if he pees on my carpet and molests my guests, he gets kicked out, and perhaps you will be as well. I am nice to new people, but only as long as they are nice, too.

At Dazzle, we want to build a network in which personal data is handled differently than it usually is today. Instead of some overlord surveillence capitalist deciding how they can best use everybody’s data for their purposes, we want the users to decide how they want to use their own data for their own purposes and purposes they approve of. What would happen if let those data-collecting surveillance capitalists access the personal data users brought into their Dazzle Data Palaces?

Well, that’s not a difficult question. Chances are, they would continue to do what they have been doing over many years, which is to hover it all up, to ignore or sweet-talk the user and use that personal data for their own profit and against the wishes of its owner.

We can’t let that happen – because if that’s what we end up with, there would be no point to Dazzle. We already have that situation, and we don’t like it.

Instead, we need to put up a wall. A wall with a big door so it is easy to walk through, no question, but a wall nevertheless with a door that can be closed to some. The sign at the door will say:

You are welcome to enter, and join us, but only if you can convince us that you’ll behave.

This means, most of all, that you won’t subvert what we are trying to do with Dazzle from the inside. Such as using personal data against the wishes of the user.

In practice that means that Dazzle will need to be an organization that has a membership list. Anybody is welcome to become a member, and then they get to play, but they first need to agree to the club rules. What exactly those will be, we still have to figure out – preferably collaboratively. Some DAOs have found a similar need and use the term “covenant” for those club rules, and I think that’s a good name we could use as well.

There are also many practicalities: maybe companies that want to join (such as app developers) will have to sign a legal document committing them to the rules. And we need to decide what happens if somebody misbehaves. How do we determine that they did, do they get to defend themselves, how many chances do they get, and what are the penalties?

There are lots of governance questions, and many of them are hard. Fortunately we don’t have to solve them all on day 1. We could, for example, start by looking at what the covenant should say.