Sean's Dev Blog

An Ode to Cypherpunks

November 23, 2020

When Cypherpunks came on the scene with the Cypherpunk Manifesto in 1993, most people had barely even heard of the Internet. Yet these visionaries had already predicted a networked society that allows global secure transactions and anonymous interaction.

“We the Cypherpunks are dedicated to building anonymous systems. We are defending our privacy with cryptography, with anonymous mail forwarding systems, with digital signatures, and with electronic money.” - Eric Hughes

However, decades later, our online experience is anything but private.

Whether we are revealing our own behavior, attitudes and preferences on social media, or simply giving an app our location data, we are not living in the cypherpunk utopia.

The good news is, I wouldn’t quite call it a dystopia just yet either.

The common trope about Big Tech is that they have access to our personal data, but this is only part of the story. They only have access to the data that we share with them. While they do track usage statistics like how we scroll, what we click, etc., we still have control over what we reveal about ourselves. If you want to go full-on Cypherpunk, you can. You can go completely anonymous and off-grid. There are people who live like this.

The great thing about social media is that it can be a massive amplifier for our voice, ideas, and creations. Like mailing lists of the early 1990s which Cypherpunks evolved out of, social media networks are the primary method by which we interact with others online and by which we can build global communities. It shouldn’t be eschewed altogether, as Jaron Lanier believes. But we should proceed with caution.

The danger with sharing information about ourselves is that a personality profile can be built up and used against us at a later time. Preferences, history, routines, habits, and beliefs can all be extracted from a study of a person’s social media activity. This information can be used by hackers to manipulate people and events.

So next time you are about to submit that new story, status, or tweet, think of the Cypherpunks.

Musings on coding, UX/UI, and hacker culture

© 2020 Sean Boisselle