Crypto Market Commentary 

3 September 2019

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Hong Kong Is Using Decentralization To Fight Back


Hello from Jakarta!


As you’ve likely seen news of, Hong Kong has been embroiled in a series of increasing tense protests regarding an extradition law and the increasing presence of mainland China in Hong Kong politics. 


Without getting into the morality of these protests or the premature erosion of “One country, two systems” by the PRC, I want to cover an interesting development that occurred in the face of increasing surveillance over the citizens of Hong Kong.


I witnessed this surveillance first-hand in China last year, as I learned about how small crimes are instantly dealt with using facial recognition. Jaywalk across the street? Expect a fine on your phone within 20 seconds. Park a rental bike outside of the proper zone? Except a hit to your social credit score. 


I even heard of a story in which a man was fined while driving because he itched his ear, which the surveillance system mistook as talking on the phone. 


But, while those examples are increasingly alarming, I want to talk about what the citizens of Hong Kong are doing in response to it. 


Certainly there were striking examples of protestors cutting down facial recognition camera towers, but there’s another tool of passive resistance that the protestors are employing: mesh networks. 


Mesh networks might sound like something confusing or esoteric, but in reality they’re small-scale decentralized networks that operate using the collective power of many individual devices. 


Just like Blockchain, there is no authority in a mesh network. This decentralisation opportunity opens up the possibilities of hundreds of new forms of technologies and business ideas that will disrupt markets.


Especially with the up-and-coming field of IoT — Internet of Things, mesh networks will start to take huge dimensions. Use cases range from smart metering to object clustering. People also predict that mesh networks will be found in sectors where implementations of robust safety rules are on the rise. 


For instance, in logistics, mining, oil and gas, utilities, and energy. An increase in the usage of mesh networks in light commercial application is expected too. Examples include large warehouses, agriculture, distribution centres, but also vehicle-to-vehicle connections, etc…. This is because the areas to cover with traditional Wi-Fi are too large and expensive to connect with traditional infrastructure. But most importantly, this technology has a huge potential for humanitarian purposes. 


In the event of storms or earthquakes, local infrastructures often get damaged which causes people to lose communication means. Mesh networks enable connectivity to not be affected in these situations. Another example is manual pumps for water. When they get damaged, people can spend months with no water access. With IoT and mesh networks, local communities can have the pump repaired in only a couple of days because they can collaborate, identity, and target much faster than relying on a few individuals to diagnose and repair. 


But let’s bring this back to what the Hong Kong protestors are doing, and why they’re doing it. 


Let’s ponder it this way: How would you communicate and organize if the government shut off the internet? 


Or, even if they left it on, how would you be sure that there’s open communication when the government actively has surveillance and censorship operations in place?


Well, that’s exactly the dilemma the protestors are facing. 


And their answer is a mesh network, specifically startup Bridgefy’s Bluetooth-based messaging app.


The app can connect people via standard Bluetooth across an entire city, thanks to a mesh network. Chatting is speediest with people who are close, of course, within a hundred meters (330 feet), but you can also chat with people who are farther away. Your messages will simply “hop” via other Bridgefy users’ phones until they find your intended target.


 While you can chat privately with contacts, you can also broadcast to anyone within range, even if they are not a contact.


That’s clearly an ideal scenario for protesters who are trying to reach people but cannot use traditional SMS texting, email, or the undisputed uber-app of China: WeChat. All of them are monitored by the state.


However, mesh networks aren’t without their own drawbacks and challenges, and this is certainly exacerbated in the presence of a hostile actor trying to undermine the operation.


In Hong Kong, given the density of buildings, it’s a bit hard to have a line of sight, so it will still be hard to build a local network. But it’s still possible to build a completely wireless network over the top of the buildings to communicate with each other.


This communications can be blocked, but then it will still work if enough people switch on their mobile phone and WiFi router to communicate with each other over peer to peer network which is a combination of wired and wireless


Furthermore, there is the threat that mainland China will force a compromised bluetooth patch using OTA updates. Of course, that’s not a killswitch due to how fragmented and terrible Bluetooth is at being a standard, but it will be enough to cripple the network. 


Still, this is a very interesting and unique case of citizen resistance and organization using decentralization. Just as much as the Crypto community seems to hold up cryptocurrency being used in nations like Venezuela and Argentina, I think we should also place emphasis on the nature of decentralization being accepted and widespread. 


Mesh networks and decentralization go hand-in-hand and will have significant commercial and civil implications down the road. 


And today. 

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