Region-based lockouts of documents are censorship

Region-based lockouts of documents are censorship

The following is an editorial.

Geographic restrictions are the antithetical to the founding principles of the Internet and cryptocurrency. The Internet was founded on egalitarian principles, that people benefited from collaboration and sharing information, and that people could organize without having to belong to organizations.

Cryptocurrencies were founded on slightly different principles, but they have some overlap. Rather than being founded on egalitarian optimism, Bitcoin was founded on the idea that a weakness of the monetary system is its reliance on trust between parties in transactions. The idea is that the system should instead find all parties equally untrustworthy, verify through digital signatures recorded in a shared ledger. This wasn’t created for members of any one country, it was created for everyone, as one of Satoshi’s papers said: “What is needed is an electronic payment system based on cryptographic proof instead of trust, allowing any two willing parties to transact directly with each other without the need for a trusted third party.”

In almost every instance a geographic restriction is put into place, it’s out of fear. When the DVD Forum, founded by a collection of technology and motion picture companies, created the DVD movie standard, they did it out of a sense of protecting their business model. Mostly, they wanted to control release dates for different countries, and prevent home movie releases jeopardizing theater ticket sales. This system was flawed, and defeated almost as soon as it shipped. Blu-ray is still hobbled with this antiquated protectionist scheme. It mainly profits the studios, the people marketing region-free players and hacks, and allows for localized censorship.

The same is true of video streaming services like the BBC’s iPlayer. The BBC is funded primarily by TV license fees. iPlayer exists to stream programs they’ve paid to produce. They don’t wish to stream to viewers who haven’t paid a license fee, so they geographically restrict viewers to residing in the UK. This is usually defeated through the use of a virtual private network (VPN).

Some token launch pages are not viewable in certain jurisdictions.

Now, we’re faced with a situation where initial coin offerings (ICOs) and token generation events (TGEs) are hiding their documents, one-pagers and white papers, from people located in specific countries, including the US, for fear of regulation by government agencies like the SEC. This presents difficulty for a number of people. As with iPlayer, expats living in one of the self-censored countries are prevented from seeing the documents. Also being excluded are researchers. How can people trying to track and understand the trends in ICOs possibly keep up when half the documents are hidden from view out of fear? The risks from letting people participate in funding are real, but the risks from letting people view the information should be relatively small. Self-censorship is based in fear, and fear is no way to run a startup venture.

As can be seen in the chart below, more than half of upcoming token funding opportunities ban people living in the US from participating. While most do not use geolocation to ban people from visiting their sites, some do. If you are managing an upcoming token launch, remember that KYC (know your customer) enforcement and effective worldwide communication about the project are not mutually exclusive.

Feature image via Wikipedia

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