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DOXXED in the age of Crypto Intelligence

Since methods of communicating via the internet were born, we’ve been trading ideas pseudonymously with one another on a regular basis. Chat rooms and forums allow you the option to use your real name, but a huge number of participants chose to operate under handles like “Gam3rGuy420” and the like. Your name being Paul Roberts is only divulged if you want it to be, and even then, who’s to say that we can even trust that your name is, in fact, Paul Roberts.

The following is a conversation recorded live with host Humpty Calderon and several web3 builders on the Ontology Spaces.

For the full conversation you can listen to the recording here.

Illustration of a closeup of an eye made up of digital artifacts (Midjourney)

A quick zip forward from instant messaging and internet forums in the early days of web2 to the later examples like Facebook will show us that there are also social media platforms where it is beneficial to present as your actual, real, human-being identity. Maybe your current address and social security number aren’t included in this profile, but enough genuine information about you is displayed with the hope that when someone you want to be looking for you enters your name in the search bar you’re the first result.

Moving into the world of web3, we play on social platforms as either ourselves or fabricated personas in a quite familiar manner. Only this time, separately from both our real and internet lives (should they differ) we interact with decentralized exchanges, NFT marketplaces, individual wallets, and protocols of all sorts. In order to stay under the radar, we don’t put too much of our real life information in plain sight. Or maybe we do?

In order to get any cryptocurrency into the web3 battlefields, we must use a KYC-mandated centralized exchange, which links our real-world identity to the cryptocurrency we purchase inextricably. Based on where one sends those tokens– even if to a non-KYC wallet like Metamask or Phantom– it’s fairly simple to follow the data to and from both ends to find the origin and destination. All of this data exists on-chain, and anyone looking in the right places can make reasonable assumptions regarding which wallets are owned by which entities. But this keeps our real life identity halfway safe, right? Maybe. Even if the average sleuth can’t find your name, address, and bank account info from your original KYC CEX on-ramp wallet, they might be able to deduce purchases prices & timeframes or which dApps with which you interact from your social media posts. 

I’m not here to tell you that being transparent is inherently bad, because sometimes it’s good to be able to be found. You can build reputation and be rewarded when you have a constant identity of sorts, but you can also be found by entities not looking to reward you. In times of social or political unrest and governmental restructuring, groups or individuals could be targeted and treated differently based on on-chain and off-chain data that can beyond a reasonable doubt be linked to them.

We’ve seen the power of the internet sleuth, and the folly of quite the same. Democratizing and/or incentivizing crowd-sourced data can be a powerful tool, but when aimed at a misguided target, this power can be used in ways we may not prefer. Things brings us back to the age-old question that we’ll maybe never agree on: “what is right?” In this case, and probably just about every other, I’d say right is when a person or group gets to live the way they want without negatively impacting others. There is a lot of grey area here. In fact, it’s almost only grey area, and we can investigate this by asking an entire nation one fact-based question about anything and watching them have polar opposite answers they all believe to be the firmly-supported right answer. I’d argue that the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle, which is where this crowd-sourcing of data might come in handy. We’re not all for centralization in the web3 ecosystem, right? This would lead us to believe that any centralized organization– whether private company or national government– may not be our favorite bastian of truth, as they’re likely to have a roughly polarized viewpoint on whatever the topic at hand. Though humans inherently can’t all be experts in everything, the aggregate of all of our takes might be closer to what we’d consider to be the objective truth than any single take provided.

Not seeing the truth pan out that you’d hoped would? Add your take to the decentralized pile of takes being collected from all human-kind. You and others like you can move the needle exactly as much as your percent-weight in the population would have it. I’m not here to talk anyone into decentralized doxxing or internet sleuthing as a viable future to be able to shape our reality, but it’s surely worth considering and exploring. Generally speaking, if something can be done it will be done, and this is currently in its budding phase. Humans tend to will systems into existence by voting not with ballot boxes but with their energy, time, money, and attention. If this is the right move it will continue, and all we can do is participate (or don’t) in the way we think is valuable, as that’s the power we have as individuals.

For more on the topic, check out the full conversation that Humpty Calderon hosted with several web3 contributors on a recent Twitter Space as a part of the ongoing Thursday Talks series.

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