The Blockchain technology, made famous by the pioneer of crypto currencies – the Bitcoin, has meanwhile found its way into the minds of the public.

Blockchain is a term that more or less conveys the promise of an improved and freer Internet. Activists in difficult political situations, for example, can circumvent economic sanctions and find ways to present their opinions against censorship attempts on the Internet. Companies hope to increase the security of their data, improve process performance such as supply chain management or make more efficient use of available resources. The potential of blockchain technology is therefore manifold.

But in addition to many euphoric thought leaders in this field, many critics also raise their voices with quite meaningful arguments. In addition to the theoretical possibilities of majority attacks and the theoretically possible existence of a kind of “universal key”, data protection is also a point of conflict again and again.

In particular, I would like to turn today to some thoughts on the subject of digital oblivion, especially since this concept is not compatible with the basic structure of the blockchain.

A blockchain is known to be a chain of blocks. Information is brought together in blocks, provided with a checksum and entered into the chain of already existing blocks with reference to the preceding checksum. Only the first block, the so-called Genesis block, of course has no reference to a previous checksum, since in fact no “previous” block exists.

This chain of blocks is continuously increasing in size. The NEO blockchain counts about three million blocks at this time, the Steem blockchain counts 27 million blocks at this time. In principle, there is no limit to the block height or the length of the chain.

Also in 10 years it will be possible to see the Steem block number 27,235,24 and determine which information it contains. Likewise, if you follow the previous checksum of the block, you will eventually arrive at the Genesis block.

If one now also realizes that these blocks exist on several distributed nodes, one quickly realizes that the deletion of information seems practically impossible.

This interests me in particular, since I live in Germany. As far as data protection is concerned, the so-called DSGVO – Basic Data Protection Regulation – became active in May 2018, which is intended to protect the digital data of Europeans in particular.

Part of the basic data protection regulation is Article 17 – the “right to be forgotten”. I have translated a large part of the article to give you a better insight into the regulation:

(1) The data subject shall have the right to obtain from the controller the erasure without delay of personal data relating to him or her and the controller shall be obliged to erase without delay personal data for any of the following reasons:

a) Personal data are no longer necessary for the purposes for which they were collected or otherwise processed.

b) The data subject shall revoke the consent on which the processing was based pursuant to Article 6(1)(a) or Article 9(2)(a) and there shall be no other legal basis for the processing.

c) The data subject shall object to the processing pursuant to Article 21(1) and there shall be no overriding legitimate reasons for the processing or the data subject shall submit the following pursuant to Article 21(2) object to the processing.

d) The personal data have been processed unlawfully.

e) The deletion of personal data is necessary to fulfil a legal obligation under Union law or the law of the Member States to which the controller is subject.

f) The personal data were collected in relation to information society services offered in accordance with Article 8(1).

(2) Where the controller has made the personal data public and is obliged to erase them in accordance with paragraph 1, he shall take reasonable measures, including technical measures, taking into account available technology and implementation costs, to inform data controllers processing the personal data that a data subject has requested them to erase all links to or copies or replications of those personal data.

You can find the german source here: https://dsgvo-gesetz.de/art-17-dsgvo/

In summary, it can be said that European users thus have a right to have any personal data deleted from them. As already mentioned above, in block-chain worlds this is relatively difficult, practically impossible. This creates a direct conflict that must be dealt with.

In the area of common crypto currencies this conflict is relatively simple to represent and even a solution is not far away. Each transaction is linked to a public key of the user. In the original form of the blockchain, this key is unchangeable and virtually linked to every transaction. In the long run, this enables a more comprehensive transaction profile to be established, which can provide information about the identity of a person.

The solution to this “simple” problem can be found in the so-called root key method. This root key would generate new keys for each transaction, which would then be linked to the respective transactions without a unique assignment taking place.

In principle, there are other approaches how to deal with this problem, but I would like to become a little more specific.

Some of you are already moving to social media platforms, which are realized via a blockchain. The prime example at the moment is the Steem-Chain. The Steem Blockchain is a blockchain specialized in content, which maps contents of social media on a blockchain. Anyone who has ever written an article on Steemit.com and has not freed it from any information within seven days has immovably immortalized himself on the blockchain. No matter what the content of the contribution was, this content will remain permanently – practically without any chance of processing or deletion. The decentralized storage and the absence of a super-user make this virtually impossible.

Now the question arises, of course, to what extent this is to be evaluated legally, but also morally. And to take this in advance: It will not be possible for me to evaluate this finally. I refer here to my statement: Blockchain empowers people, but increased power also means increased responsibility.

A simple scenario is a fifteen year old boy who accidentally becomes aware of Steemit and starts to get actively involved on the platform. As many can certainly imagine, there is the possibility that the young person writes things that he may not want to see publicly linked to his person on the Internet in later life. But once he has left the corresponding footprints in the blockchain, they are permanent and any content can be directly linked to him throughout his life.

Many may think, yes, of course, but I only post what I want, what others associate with me. Only then is this filtering dependent on the perspective of the individual in question and the consciousness of what I want to see connected to me and what I don’t want to see connected to me. I maintain that this was rarely optimally pronounced in a teenager from his later point of view and that this consciousness changes very strongly.

In retrospect, this person no longer has the possibility to change the contents that are linked to his person. In principle, there is a danger that data will remain irrevocably on the Internet without blockchains. However, this is the basis of the blockchain, which is yet another conflict.

I would be interested to know how others judge this issue. My understanding of morality tells me that this person actually has a right to process this information afterwards. On the other hand, the topic must be dealt with more explicitly so that young people can develop an awareness of their own data.

However, I also find the idea of integrating digital oblivion into the actual technology exciting. What exactly this integration would look like, I won’t mention in this blog. There are different approaches which could represent solutions for digital oblivion. Basically, however, the discussion is still ongoing.

Please tell me in the comments what you think. Is digital oblivion relevant in the age of the blockchain? How do you view the conflict between manipulation-free data storage and the lack of extensive control over personal data?

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Responses

  1. TRUTH(@i-am)

    Well, your article directly addresses “PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY”, unfortunately, society and governments have been dumbing people down and teaching them it GOOD to have a NANNY STATE to run to when you don’t want to have to take care of yourself. Of course for “self interest” and a guaranteed growth and acceptance, Governments LOVE the People to have this mindset of “lack of personal responsibility”.

    Its true, what is on the blockchain is there forever (unless the “smart-contract” deletes it at some point – achievable as you said by choosing 1yr or 10yr or whatever laid out format). This makes “growing up” a necessity for people, people have to learn to:

    1. Take Responsibility for their Situations and Actions
    2. Not be a SLAVE to their personal desires and reactions

    If these 2 important “non-physical” (spiritual) principles were focused on during childhood development, then the issue you have brought up (very relevant today) would become a non-issue, as the people would take PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY and monitor their own actions and statements.

    For me, this is one of the beauties of BLOCKCHAIN,,, it is going to MOTIVATE (even if from harm do to lack of personal responsibility) people to advance spiritually by not making hasty statements in response to their “hot-issues” (overcome personal slavery) and to be careful and responsible in ALL personal matters (don’t loose your Private Keys).

    I see this as a FORCE for POSITIVE change of the Culture!

    (3)
    1. B-S Post author

      Hey @i-am

      Yes, interesting, if your comment suggests that a technology practically educates people. Not only in terms of showing you new boundaries, but fundamentally.

      I can’t judge to what extent this is changing at the moment. I can’t say that I think people are becoming more reasonable, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying the opposite.

      Finally, I am talking about the simplest form of personal responsibility. The pretended mask of responsibility, the appearance of independence, is treated on a completely different page.

      Wonderful to always read your interesting comments!

      (3)
  2. CryptosDecrypted

    Thought-provoking, well-written piece. Such a complex topic/issue. My non-technical belief is that certain areas of Blockchain (such as social media posts) will undergo revision in terms of immutability perhaps with a decay mechanic- a post leaves the archive after 10 years if that option was selected when posting or chain splitting where you have decay and immutability in a hierarchy of needs/preferences. Will it still be a blockchain? Well, I guess if there is a record of a post and then a deletion…Years of debate await.

    (4)
    1. B-S Post author

      Yes, the discussion must and will come. I think social media in particular should deal intensively with this topic. When it comes to AI or matters that revolve around the integrity of data, for example in production technology, there will certainly be no conflicts with digital oblivion. Financial services are also limited.

      What interests me most is what the individual user thinks. There are also some people who are explicitly against digital oblivion.

      (1)
    1. B-S Post author

      What is your general position on the question of whether people should have the right to determine their personal data? Do you think digital oblivion in general is positive or rather superfluous?

      (2)
      1. taurus1983

        The immutability is the strength of blockchain that gives it high robustness. All the previous data will sit in blockchain forever and can be seen by anyone. Negligence isn’t tolerated on blockchain.

        (1)
  3. Infosion

    Never thought about that, but you are totally right. It’s really a weird problem with DSVGO requirements and the transparency of blockchain transactions.
    Also some good questions you are raising, I guess I’ll have to think about them a little bit!

    (2)
  4. Tony Lee

    A very well written article and raise some very good points on the conflicts between government regulation and Blockchain technology. The BIG internet companies have monopolised our personal data for so long and Article 17 sets out to free us. With Blockchain although it is hash and immutable on the Blockchain, you as a user remain anonymous.

    (2)
  5. Tony Lee

    An excellent well written article. Blockchain technology will revolutionise the technology landscape with Web3.0. Part of Article 17 set out by the EU is to break up the monopoly and ownership of data by the top technology company holding and abusing individuals data. The Blockchain has 2 fold, anonymity and immutability, yes although data is hash into the Blockchain it re

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