Hacker Noon Editor, businesswoman, podcaster, and true crime lover
Amy Tom and Sharmini Ravindran, CMO at Mysterium Network, discuss whether it’s possible to achieve anonymity and decentralization from the modern Internet. Sharmini explains how to improve personal privacy and data control, as well as how to use Mysterium to connect to different IP addresses. They also have a thoughtful conversation about the humanitarian aspects of global Internet accessibility.
In this episode, Amy and Sharmini chat about:
- Whether true decentralization from the modern Internet is possible or not (20:00)
- The shift towards distributed permissionless peer-peer networks (03:45)
- VPN nodes that allow anonymous bandwidth sharing between peers (13:25)
- The humanitarian impact of the Internet and what happens when control is taken away from the user (27:00)
- The varying levels of control placed upon the Internet in different countries (11:15, 22:30)
Transcript (machine-generated, pardon the errors)
Amy Tom: Hello and welcome to the Hacker Noon podcast. My name is Amy and I am your host. I’m a new voice on the Hacker Noon podcast. And today I am joined with Utsav, who is one of our VPs at Hacker Noon. And Sharmini, who’s the Chief Marketing Officer at Mysterium Networks. And I’m very excited because I want to get into a little bit of decentralization and censorship and VPN, which is what Mysterium is providing, and I am really interested in this because in 2019, I went to Myanmar and Facebook is currently being banned in Myanmar. So there’s a lot of topic around this conversation. So I’m excited to chat to you today a little bit more about decentralization, but Shamini, can you start off by telling us a little bit about your background and how you got started?
Sharmini Ravindran: Well, I got into crypto maybe four years ago. I came to work in this space and I was running an agency in the FinTech space in Australia and Sydney. And back then, there was literally a tiny industry in Sydney. You know, things were growing in London, things are growing and New York, and I was getting massive FOMO.
So I packed my bags and I went to London and I started to work with a few crypto projects over there, just consulting. That’s when I really understood the market, I really understood what use cases I saw as long-term use cases for crypto. I mean, we’re talking 2017, you know, there was such a mad flurry, and I think we have that mad flurry starting again in 2021, which is just a more regulated mad flurry, I would say. So I started to consult and I was working at an un-conference for cryptocurrency people in Lithuania. When I came to meet the Mysterium team. And from the very beginning, I’d understood that distributed networks were a natural use case for cryptocurrencies because we don’t have a global payment system.
How does someone pay another person, like a person in the US pay someone in India second-by-second, using PayPal? It doesn’t exist and it’s going to be way too expensive in terms of transaction fees. So I was looking at distributed computing, distributed VPN and I met Mysterium network and I was super excited about the project.
And that’s when I went on board. When I started at Mysterium, they had a command-line interface, and um, I’m like, wait, what, what, what do I do? We started to build out applications right now. We are on Mac windows, Android, and very soon we’ll be on iOS. So that’s an exciting piece that we have coming up and we’ve got, you know, node networks that are all-time high at the moment.
I actually was just writing a blog post that’s going to go live. We had a thousand exit nodes. We’ve had a hundred terabytes of traffic go through our network. We’ve come a really long way in the last year, two and a half years that I’ve been there. And I’m super excited about the work we’re doing to open the internet for everyone and build it so that it’s blind to borders.
Amy: Right. You talk a little bit more about what a network would mean in terms of crypto. I know you talked about that a little bit, but can you expand on that a little bit more? I think that’s really interesting.
Sharmini: So our network at Mysterium specifically, and I think this kind of is a metaphor for wider distributed networks as well, is peer-to-peer. So people running software at the other end of the transaction are not a business. They are human. And this means that you’re kind of distributing power from centralized pieces of the internet that have shaped the internet in a very specific way. The internet wasn’t actually built to be this multi centralized monopoly that we’re seeing right now.
And the shift of distributed networks, peer-to-peer networks think torrents, you know, like torrents were initially peer-to-peer, but not incentivize. And I think now with blockchain technology, this added new piece allows for scalability of this because incentives kind of drive everything in the world.
And now we have clear incentives for people to provide services and gain from it. Passive income is like the mantra of our new gig economy generation. Isn’t it? So like, it’s one of those pieces that I think really contribute to it when we first went after nodes early on when we’re building out the network, a lot of the kind of people that we were looking at were people who looked at passive income as a means to just live. People living off multiple streams, we’re talking Uber drivers, we’re talking, you know, we have so many different kinds of use cases in the real world that this is just another way that people could do this. Another way people could cut their internet bill in half, or if you think about it or even completely pay for it.
And. I mean, it doesn’t seem like a lot to many of us listening I’m sure. But for a university student, this is an extremely attractive value proposition we found. So, I’m very for distribution of power. And I think this has been a really interesting way in which we can do that kind of using blockchain technology and peer-to-peer thinking.
Amy: Yeah, I think that an interesting use case for that too is the worldwide use of it because I’ve worked with a few people and just had to transfer money in between countries or people have multiple countries. And this is my peer is not business to business or a business to me. And it’s like impossible.
I don’t know. In Canada, we transfer our money via email. Typically, and nobody else does that. And when I started asking people for money or for transfers, we were like, what the hell are you talking about? and then there’s like transfer wise or like PayPal or something, but those are complicated. And again, go through the centralized banking system. So I can definitely see a big use case around that for worldwide transfers. I think that’s really interesting.
Sharmini: Oh, for sure. I think, I mean, if you talk about like the Bitcoin piece, right. Where we’re talking about transfers of like bigger sums as it may be, I think that in itself, me paying you for my half for dinner.
If we happen to have dinner across nationally, which in the time of COVID is very possible. So, um, that itself is super interesting. And then we talk about in the distributed systems, there is also once you remove the centralized body, there’s a trust gap between the service provider and the user.
So you don’t want to provide service for say a day and not get paid because you’re not going to be able to get the service back. So with micropayments, I think that’s the super interesting use case that we’ve explored in our payments infrastructure. There, you can go by second-by-second or gigabyte-based payments, right?
Where you’re paying by the second, and there’s no need to trust the other parties. So that’s why we’re trustless in a great way. And I think once we do that, You remove that element, that need for centralized bodies, because what is PayPal, other than just something you trust to hold your money, like and directly paying some wallet.
Do you know what I mean? So I mean, I think that blockchain really is going to change how we fundamentally operate as a society. We’re really in the early days. I was actually at dinner with a friend and I was talking about blockchain to someone who’s not in the space. And I’m like, it’s not just about financial transactions because he’s a financial controller.
I’m like, think about it. Data is like currency. And once you have interoperable blockchains that kind of are able to move data and financial transactions simultaneously or using smart contract-based logics or whatever abstraction layer we get on top of smart contracts, that’s when you really start to see humanities evolve out of this trap phase where we, you know, we’re the products because the products are free to us
Amy: yeah. I love how you talked about data as a currency. I think that’s a really key piece of it. And that’s also why centralization is becoming such an issue on the internet and with people who value their data privacy because who owns your data or who gets to be able to see your data and use your data is the big question.
So using VPN, any de-centralized services will take away the data from big corporations essentially. Is that what you’re saying?
Sharmini: Well, I ideally, yes, like once we have all of them existing, you know, if you have your Facebook, you have your Instagram, and you start to see, there’s always going to be those painful shift moments.
Right. Because you have all your data on these existing platforms that are centralized and then there’s that initial pain to switch, or like friction’s a switch, but I think that more and more we’re seeing pop-culturally people understand that data is something of value. Their personal data is of something of value because it, because of how much time they spend digitally, they can see how their worldview is controlled digitally as well.
So I think we’re living in a very pivotal moment. I think in the next couple of years, we’re going to see, I mean, you see with GDPR as well. You know, there’s real thinking, coming from even regulatory aspects as to how enterprises need to think about the movement of data the storage of data.
Think about how much of a headache it’s going to be for like a huge enterprise, I’m talking like a Forbes 500 to actually be GDPR compliance after running for this long
Amy: It’s crazy. I worked in the security space and I worked with a lot of enterprise companies. And when GDPR was introduced, I was still working in the security space.
And so many companies were like, we have no idea what we’re doing. And I remember the first big fine. I think it was Google and it was like a billion dollars or something. And everyone was like, Oh my God, this is it. It’s crazy. And that was back in like, I don’t know what 2017 or something like that. So, yeah.
Decentralization and protection of data, I think is a big topic now. And also, it’s like who owns your data and who gets to use it is the piece that I think is really interesting because I think what people don’t realize is these big companies, like Facebook and Instagram -how much they’re collecting, like they know your device information, your operating system, your battery information, your location, all your contacts, who you’re talking to you.
And WhatsApp is supposed to be an end-to-end encryption product. So taking away the power from the user and being able to sell that data to third-party companies is a huge, huge miss, I think. And so that’s why a lot of people are moving over to signal or telegram.
And you can see that people are wanting to become more.
Sharmini: I mean, what did we expect when Facebook bought WhatsApp? Yeah. For them the same, I guess the painful process with these monoliths that we have at the moment, I think it’s a ground-up movement. I’ve been very proud to work alongside really smart people. Mysterium was used quite a lot in Nigeria during the end stars Protests to help people communicate when communications lines were shut down, access information when they couldn’t because of the ISP blocking certain domains.
So in that it’s like, I do think it’s grassroots. It’s a pressure up. Move the pressure down because though you have this regulatory piece, there’s still this. This needs to come from individual humans. It’s a choice. It’s a choice to live within the centralized world or not. And it’s a choice to accept that we are more and more becoming digital citizens and, and their ramifications of not being aware of how to take care of yourself online.
I mean, let’s not even talk about the every man. Let’s talk about the fact that ledger was, um, that your fronts, I was in France, ledger, France. There was an e-commerce data dump of everyone who purchased the ledgers for a couple, a couple of months on the dark web. I think that’s insane. That’s insane.
And it’s a, and this is just us having to do housekeeping as an industry to make sure that we are taking care of security and make building more and more trust within the cryptocurrency and blockchain space because we’re such a new technology and such so misunderstood because of the hype that people might miss.
The actual value proposition, which is disintermediation of power or return people like returning power into the hands of people, giving people more choices on their digital. Lives. Yeah, I think, I hope I get to see it in 2030 at least. So, yeah.
Amy: Yes. So can you explain to me a little bit more about how the de-centralized VPN connects with the cryptocurrency piece of Mysterium? Because I think that’s the part that I’m not really understanding fully.
Sharmini: So, when you think about the average user, let’s say you’re in, you’re in Vancouver, right? And you want to watch Netflix in the US. And most VPNs actually have a problem with this because they run data center, IPS, these centralized VPNs, they’re just servers that have data center, IP addresses, which means they behave in a certain way.
And Netflix is another Monolith, you know, they have people who are able to blacklist IPS and, and constantly fight against this because that’s their business model. So in that sense, VPNs have this problem of unblocking Netflix anyway, but on a wider sense, you’re in Vancouver and you want to watch Netflix in the US.
What Mysterium has is a bunch of residential IPS because they’re run at home. People run node software on their laptops, or on Raspberry PI computers. They can just plug into their router and serve the IP address. So there you’re renting Greg from the US’ IP address, and you’re paying him, paying him gigabyte by gigabyte in Myst which is our native token, which is the kind of the fuel for the network. And it’s the way in which you will kind of spend for VPN service as you go. Now, if you look at the traditional VPN market that you see a lot of subscription-based services, you see a lot of offers to buy now and you get it for $2.20 a month and pay for the annual subscription.
Now, a lot of people buy this and don’t use it. That they have. There’s a reason why we’d be, and businesses are massive marketing machines is because they have huge margin. People buy it because they get a promo message on their face and they don’t actually use the service on a day-to-day basis. Also, that price looks at a locks out the emerging market.
So what Myst does for Mysterium is it makes out service pay as you go, you top it up and you only pay when you’re using the VPN. If you’re not using the VPN, you’re not paying for anything. And, we did some math on this. And I think it’s about 6 cents to watch a movie.
Amy: Oh, okay. So you’re saying that if I’m using Mysterium, I can use Greg’s network from his house, his home IP address in the States. And I am paying him some of my Myst tokens to do that.
Sharmini: That’s right. That’s absolutely right.
Amy: Okay, cool. Yeah.
Sharmini: We’ve actually got a really interesting, cause we’re not, we’re pretty, um, agnostic as a project, we’re more interested in growth of our network growth, healthy growth about node network. So we have an integration with queen gate, which allows you to top up Mysterium VPN with Bitcoin Litecoin, Ethereum BCH, like the whole range of very popular cryptocurrencies and it’s, which is an under the hood to miss. So you don’t even need to go by me. You know, you, you like, if you’re a cryptocurrency holder, you can just top it up with 0.00, depending on the price of Bitcoin.
And you have Myst, and you can start using that service and it just, you know, you can top it up whenever you run out.
Amy: Yeah. Yeah. That’s an interesting model to pay as you use VPN because yeah, you’re right. VPN is, some VPNs are not cheap and you only use them when you want to watch Netflix.
So this totally makes sense. Yeah.
Sharmini: And beyond that, the free VPNs you’re the product. Yeah. Like it’s a, it’s another one of those. We see a lot of that, especially trying to go to market in, in regions that are emerging and see a lot of targeting of free VPN. And there is a huge education piece in the communications of.
We’ve been on the value. Of paying a little bit, not too much, but a little bit for your privacy, because when it’s free, like it’s such a shady obscure industry, right. That we needed to come and disrupt it. We needed to come and bring transparency to it because there, there are such, there’s actually very few VPN companies.
Most of the ones that become successful get bought over by a few monopolies. I think I called it a. I think it’s more of an oligopoly than a monopoly, but it’s a few parent groups and a lot of brands out there. So what happens behind the scenes is you have a few very powerful companies with all the data and do…
Amy: Which is essentially going back to centralization. So when you say VPN, that means that there’s also VPNs that are centralized?
Sharmini: Of course, all VPNs that are not are centralized VPNs. They are people who, there are people who run it. There’s an entity that holds it there. They own servers all over the world. And it looks the same because you go into the interface and you can connect to the US but you’re connecting to a US server owned by this company as compared to in a VPN space where you’re connecting to a person running software and that you don’t need to connect to that person ever again, you know, you can keep switching it up. And that means that quite similar to the Tor network in that sense, but we’re incentivized.
Amy: Right. So if I’m truly concerned about my data privacy and taking away the power from the big corporations, I would rather go with a VPN service, because theoretically, these centralized VPN services, they have these data centers and they could get hacked. So my data is still being stored somewhere and it could get leaked.
Sharmini: Well, it’s not a, it has happened, you know, I don’t want to drop names, but it consistently happened. Got a newsletter, but yeah, like it’s, it’s consistently happening. It’s a central point of failure. No sense at a time when we, as, at least in the tech space, understand that with a central point of failure you will be attacked. And if there is enough incentive to attack you, you will be attacked. So might as well work on distributing the actual infrastructure. I think mysterium would be a core piece of web three infrastructure in that sense. We don’t just provide VPN services through LGPL I think in the future, our leadership team have some plans to kind of grow towards developer-based ecosystem building and have chat applications, running traffic through a Mysterium network.
So we live as the kind of undercurrent network that you can plug in and out of. So you don’t need to build your own VPN network, you know, you just plug into it, and then every application is run on a VPN network without a user having to actually move, run a VPN that’s like a much longer-term vision for the project.
I think we will move from being a consumer application in the next year to being more like the privacy, the Stripe of privacy. If you may, you know, like the infrastructure through which content can move, traffic can move and be accessed globally.
Amy: Right. Yeah. I want to ask you about something that you mentioned, about the growing pains of moving towards decentralization. Do you think that with the current way, the modern internet is set up, it’s possible to completely from modern internet and have your data be your own?
Sharmini: I mean, I have this conversation a lot with our development team. I think it’s a matter of you have to build on building blocks. And when you’re building towards web three, you’re building on building blocks that are being built at the same time. So, you know, you’re kind of, it’s, it’s kind of hybrid systems coming together to make it work. Cause no web three projects is completely standalone, like Mysterium, we still need the Ethereum blockchain.
We still need coin gate as an integration partner we’re working with MADEC, I think they now Polygon, as our level two-layer to partner to make transactions cheaper and all of these new projects that are building on top of each other. So it’s a hybrid movement towards decentralization decentralization
I think it’s possible to centralize from day one. It doesn’t make sense either. You want to build a user base test the use case and then like move towards a system under the hood. So I would say Mysterium is pretty like our development team is pretty, let’s decentralize it, um, humans. So it’s a, it’s a tension between let’s go to market humans and let’s decentralize it.
So. That’s um, it’s a nice, it’s a nice tension to have, I think, because we want to stay core to the vision, which is decentralization, which is to make sure that this power shifts happen. So that, yeah, I guess I hope I’ve answered your question.
Amy: Yeah, I think it’s totally finding that balance between how can I live on the modern internet, the way it is, and still be able to connect with my friends and look things up and take courses or whatever, where I’m putting my data out there and still have my data be private and used the way that I want it to be used. So, it’s totally about finding that balance, which is kind of the tricky thing. I think like, how do I use the internet while still being invisible? Almost.
Sharmini: It was so interesting. I was in China. And I was trying, so this was a couple of years ago and I was trying so hard to just access maps, using a VPN.
And I couldn’t, and I actually couldn’t even access Gmail and that really tripped me out. But it makes sense actually because we all know Google is blocked in China, but you know, some wires were not like crossing in my mind and. Strangely enough Slack worked. I was copying pasting emails and working with my team to make sure that we could keep communicating what, while I was in China.
And that just shows that you kind of have to wire it together. That was my little metaphor for that. Like you just kinda have to wire whatever works together based on your individual internet situation. Cause you’re talking about your internet situation and in Vancouver like we’d done some deep-dive research into the great firewall of China and I was speaking with our lead researcher on that.
And he was telling me that their internet is just insanely slow and you can’t just set up an internet like a website. You need to register the domain. So the internet is not as much as the free space as it is for you and me, which we can just go to godaddy.com, buy a domain, you know, connect it to Squarespace and I’ll be up and running with a website.
It’s not that easy in other jurisdictions. So, that’s been a really interesting insight for me to understand the different internet situations of different regions. Talking to our representatives in Nigeria, we actually sponsored a town hall for them, so they could buy SIM cards to have stable enough internet to just connect for a video call.
So, this is like, it’s important to understand that our perception of our individual internet I’m in Singapore with Fiber Optics, you know, you’re in, you’re in Vancouver. None of us are really struggling with the internet piece so much, but there’s a lot of the world that have a very different screen they’re looking into.
Amy: Right. And, uh, and too with the news piece that’s coming up and Facebook’s involvement with deciding which countries entirely get Facebook and what you don’t. What are your thoughts on that situation?
Sharmini: This is a really interesting one. I think it’s quite similar to this whole discussion on parlor as well. You’re talking about. A corporation deciding, uh, like first a government deciding or a diff a bigger corporation being AWS, deciding that another corporation cannot get must cease to exist in their ecosystem. And then you’re talking about a corporation deciding that certain jurisdictions must cease to exist in their ecosystem.
I think that the biggest problem is that this is not a people-powered decision. And that’s why decentralization is super important because I’m all for a community of people deciding how they would like to self-regulate that’s completely fine. But, when the decision-maker is an entity, which is the case in both these pieces it’s, that’s where it gets concerning because who is making that decision? Is it, is it the enterprise itself or is it like the community that it serves?
Amy: Or like government involvement, like the governments seem to be working directly with Facebook. Because it is the biggest corporation. And if you look at the Myanmar coup, for example, I was there in Myanmar, last two years ago now.
And I met so many amazing people and they all use Facebook. They all wanted to add me on Facebook. I have like 10 random Myanmar deeds on my Facebook profile because they’re really, they were really into it, and they kind of describe it as like a digital teashop almost where they can still chat with each other online about politics or whatever they want to discuss. And to take that away it, as one of the biggest new sources to control the narrative, I think is the, the issue around that and why decentralization is important. So, yeah, I definitely agree. I think it’s, it should be in the hands of the user or not to the governing body to decide what gets put on the internet or not, and that, but then, you know, there’s also the thing with Signal. I heard that it’s like kind of a balance between how much involvement they should have and shouldn’t have because I heard on Signal because of the whole WhatsApp encryption privacy issue, they’re saying we don’t do any kind of censorship at all free for all, do whatever you want, which begs the question of what it would be used for obviously it’s going to be used for some illegal services as well.
So, finding a balance, between that I guess, and, or just teaching people not to do illegal things. I don’t know.
Sharmini: Freedom is just a double-edged sword. I think it’s just, you can’t choose, you know, it’s like you’re free until this point. Cause then someone is choosing where that point is.
Whereas it, like, I think governance tokens are coming back in 2021. And I think they’re very interesting because they. They’re what help communities self-regulate and hopefully this shift towards governance tokens, you can, you can see these kinds. I think social media platforms are perfect for governance, tokens, and reputation systems.
We definitely need that with all the fake news we got flying around. I think these are the technological elements that can start to improve the social media landscape, I guess. It’s very sad in Myanmar, the whole thing with the Myanmar coup, we actually are looking for ways that Mysterium to build out a program is in very early stages.
We’ve just worked with Nigeria, with the town hall and education on security, online, how to protect themselves and how to communicate freely. But we would like to start a program we, where you can gift the internet. To someone who is in need, right? We’re looking at charity partners for that.
So if you guys know anyone, like I’m more than happy to speak to charities on the ground. We really want to work with the people that most need these services. And we want to create ways in which they can access our service, even if they don’t have crypto, even if they don’t have money. I don’t think access to information should be something that is not at least as equalized as possible, which is kind of the point of the internet. Right? So.
Amy: Yes, one of the early articles that I had edited with hacker noon was about how the internet deepens the gender divide too because in countries where people can only afford one device per household, usually the male gets the device and the woman doesn’t have access to the use of internet to research health or connect with people or whatever it might be.
So it deepens the knowledge gap between women and men because they don’t have access to internet. So I think that was interesting as well.
Sharmini: Yeah, that’s super interesting. I mean, I think the gender gap, the money gap, like all of these power differences with what the internet kind of, that was the beginning theory of the internet, right?
Like that was the use case for it. And we’ve come such a long way. So I really hope we can step back and rewire it. I think it was a lot of interesting projects heading in the right direction towards it. I’m really hoping that we do our jobs together. Yeah.
Amy: Yeah. The original internet was intended for open, free information. Then we’ve moved away from that. Yeah, for sure.
Sharmini: Super partisan now, we live in echo chambers of our own making. It’s such a multi-pronged problem. First of all, you have the communications layer, the access layer, the community layer, like there’s so many different ways in which the internet has grown in the last 10, 15 years that we’re in a space where we have to take all these new growth that humans are used to on the interface level and see what we can do under the hood to change up what.
How it actually affects them. I’m not sure if you guys saw this Netflix series, The Social Dilemma.
Sharmini: What did you think?
Amy: You know, to be honest, I was not surprised by any of that information because my background is in digital marketing. So I was like, okay. Yeah. I knew that they were collecting that information. And I kind of feel like I have a unique position on this because I worked in cybersecurity for. Oh a long time, three or four years. And then I worked in digital marketing. And so I’m like, Oh, I love the collection. Part of me loves the collection of data because then the marketing gets better and your ads get better and you can target people better.
And that, and you know, that piece is also like kind of helpful because, as a consumer, if I’m looking for a specific kind of product, Facebook kind of just recommend stuff to me. But, then at the same time. Yeah. I know how much data is actually being collected and the potential ramifications for a personal data leakage and what that can mean for consumers and for businesses. So it’s like very interesting. That documentary was very interesting to me.
Sharmini: Yeah, no, I mean, I guess we’re just like, Oh yeah , this is known, but I thought it was great it was a Netflix series because suddenly my mom was watching it and I was like, yes, posting up on Facebook.
It was a wonderful kind of growth in the general pop cultural understanding of this. I think that with the whole Social Dilemma piece, like we’ve let centralized entities kind of. Eat into themselves because their whole business model is based on the collection of data. I’m I’m curious what FANG is gonna look like, you know, Facebook, Amazon, what is, what is the N of FANG? Netflix?
Amy: I think it was Netflix and then Google. Yeah.
Sharmini: What’s going to happen to them because they’re the, one of the big, some of the biggest stocks in the tech market. Yeah. So it’s a paradigm shift we’re looking at. And I think that, I’m curious as both as an investor and a person building in the space. I’m really curious to see how humanity takes the rail.
Amy: Yeah. And I think it’s almost like we’ve gone so far Into those corporations that we can’t live without them. Like, can you imagine a world without Google? No, I can’t.
Sharmini: It’s actually really interesting going back to your point about digital marketing, because I think one of my challenges as the CMO of Mysterium network is lack of visibility because we don’t do this. Like we don’t track it now at, at all. So we have statistical data and maybe the country that you enter from, but nothing, we got nothing on you like, and that as a digital marketer, I’m like, wait, so I can see which campaign led to my most my yeah. Top conversions.
So it’s been a really interesting mindset shift as a marketer to go, okay. How do I go from a world of having insane access to personal data and targeting and understanding the psychology of a human through how they behave online to statistical data? So then you, then you have to, like, I think it’s a fair game against humanity. You still have statistical data, but you don’t need, you don’t need to know when they, I don’t know, feel sad and pop them some ice cream ad you know, I think that’s just too insidious a world to be in, to be honest. Well, I’d like to go over my wants and desires to a certain extent, at least.
Amy: Yeah, for sure and yeah, it’s, it feeds into consumerism so much. Yeah. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve bought things from ads before. It was horrible.
Sharmini: I mean, telling me like, I mean, I use an ad blocker, but like sometimes, you know, sometimes ads get around them and then I don’t even realize that the ad has gotten around my ad blocker and I’m like, well, now I’m shopping
Amy: In social media, their goal is to make it as. Integrated as possible so that you don’t know that you’re being served an ad. So they’re just gonna keep getting more and more creative. And then, you know, yeah the things like Instagram influencers and stuff where like that’s organic, but not, yeah.
Sharmini: I mean, we kind of do, I mean, coming from the crypto space, you know, the influencer game here is, is a hard one. Because you know, most people don’t trust projects, they trust influencers. And so there’s, influencers basically kind of have their a lot of sway, I mean, look at like, I don’t know if you consider Elon Musk an influencer, but I would like look at what Elon did to Bitcoin’s price. You know, it’s a matter of like, we live in a world where human capital is super like this trust capital through an individual is so valuable and important.
I think it’s a natural part of any digital marketers arsenal.
Amy: Yeah and to go back to centralization of the internet, it’s, it’s probably because as consumers were taught more and more not to trust corporations.
Sharmini: Well, that’s amazing, I told you that. It’s uh, it’s interesting. What about you guys with hacker noon? You serve a pretty broad technical base. I’m pretty sure they recognize an ad. That’s been retargeted when they see one. No?
Amy: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And we, we’re very careful of what we actually put on our website in terms of like tracking stuff, because yeah. We’re like we have a lot of our readers who are very keen on decentralization. The only ad that we serve as a little yellow banner at the top of our homepage, and that’s where most of our earnings come from. So that’s kind of the way that that works. And yeah, I think a lot of our readers and user base is interested in keeping their data private. So I, as a marketer, I’m often like David let’s put on Facebook pixel and he’s like, no, we can’t do that. I’m like, okay. I’m like, let’s, let’s use look like audience and retarget everybody and do all this stuff. And he’s like, no, Probably not.
Sharmini: No, exactly how you feel. It is a mindset shift. Like, I mean, the number of times I’ve asked for it and also knowing I’m going to get a no, you know, but sometimes you just got to try.
I think the digital landscape is a war for attention and if we want to educate, if he wants to get in front of people who are getting blasted ads, every three seconds, I’m torn. Do we play the game? Do we do the game differently? I’m trying to do it right. So let’s see. Let’s see how we go. I’m like super happy to chat on like offline as well, about marketing strategy that’s statistical. God, I’ve been doing it for the last two and a half years.
Amy: Yeah. Yeah. I am just such a big, the digital market area to me is just such a big supporter of like using data because it makes it so much easier for marketing purposes and building your base of customers or for whatever you’re selling.
And being able to track conversions is so valuable. But then yeah, it’s like the double-edged sword of The Social Dilemma. I feel like I am the Social Dilemma. Okay.
Sharmini: It’s really, I mean, it’s amazing to chat like this with another marketer who is, who understands these kinds of tensions that we work with. And like, I think ed Mysterium. I’m pretty happy to see that like the development team has been staunchly, like, forget about it. So it’s been like, and I, as a marketer have also come from, come to understand and really like go alongside with this mentality.
And I work very, I think that if we want to actually transition the industry, we as marketers need to also understand how to market using statistical data. It is not as easy for sure. But, it is probably a more ethical and probably the right way to go. So at least, at least we’re doing it right. And I hope that people understand and we’re doing it right at the same time as people’s consciousness come to a point where they understand that these are the kinds of people I would like to become customers of because they are not going to exploit me.
Like in app, we don’t do any tracking that is personal data related. And I’m pretty happy to say that because I don’t know how many VPNs can come out and say that as well.
Amy: I love how you said the fear of exploitation. I think that is the big consumer fear that their data is going to be exploited by these big companies. So I think that’s a such a powerful word to use to describe it. Yeah.
Sharmini: I mean, it’s happening to all of us. It’s just something we have to accept it’s happening to all of us. And we have to make choices on where we let it happen and where we don’t. Cause we kind of live in this, like I said, war for our attention. Right? It’s like it marketers like you and me. Less ethics out there it’s retargeting us based or past behavior. So that’s something we’re thinking about when you’re using the internet. And that’s one of the other reasons why I really like these tools like browsers, like Brave searches. I think duck, duck go is a really, really great search engine as well that people can start using. One of the things that we did actually as an educational piece, completely unrelated to product was an internet shutdown tool kit, which also showcases this kind of technologies that people can use in general for privacy.
But we purposely built it as a PDF downloadable on IPFS link so that anyone in an internet shutdown can do an access to this resource and wired together communications channel should they need it. Because that’s super important. Can you imagine, like most of the time internet shutdowns are happening it’s during the government voting moments, you know.
Amy: Like some kind of mass DDoSs attack or something. Yeah.
Sharmini: Well, it’s a mess. Like I think the government shut down the internet when they don’t want people to communicate. And that’s a reality that we face, especially in emerging markets. So we’re seeing that again and again and again, and we need to come up with a way in which to help these countries because it is communication, is it is people coming together at a time and the internet is a great way to come together in a way that doesn’t physically endanger you, you know, in a, in a place where that could very well happen.
For example, some of our Nigerian supporters went to a protest and we didn’t hear from them for a couple of days. And we literally worried that something happened to them. And you know them personally, it’s such a real, it’s such a reality and then they pop back up.
You’re like, oh, I’m fine. I’m like guys, I Telegramed. So it, it’s an interesting, I think really, really eyeopening to work with emerging markets, to work with activists on the ground locally. We’re really trying to educate on the internet. It’s helped me understand how privileged I am, even based on my track. Remarketed browser, you know, like I am so much more privileged than the average person who can barely make a video call.
Amy: Yeah, and it is becoming a humanitarian issue. You’re right. And, you know, we joke about like, Oh, what would happen if Google went away? But it could be a reality if the government decided to shut it down or whatever the case may be, we talk about how these Fang companies, What if they did disappear, like Facebook could definitely just take, be taken away, look at what they did in Australia with the news. And Australia is considered a quote unquote Western country.
Sharmini: I tend to think of government as boards of companies.
Sharmini: That’s how they’re run.
Amy: Pretty much. Yeah.
Sharmini: Yeah. So it’s, it’s, it’s really interesting. There’s actually a resource online that allows you to see where your country is ranked in terms of accessibility.
And the US is much higher than you expect it to be. So, you know, I can’t remember the research that the link for the life of me right now, but if you Google most accessible countries, you would probably be able to find out and you will find out that your country is not as free as we think it is.
Amy: Ah, the transparency index. Yes. Thanks,
Sharmini: Over there. But it’s really, it’s really, really useful. Um, this transparency index for underspending. Exactly how free you are because a lot of us make assumptions. You don’t know what’s right. You’re not allowed to see, you know, like until you go look in, find out what it is that you’re, that’s being blocked from your yeah.
Amy: You know what? I just found out that I had no idea that encryption is illegal in certain countries and in certain countries, it’s punishable by fine or by arrest. I think that’s crazy. Oh, I had no idea.
Sharmini: Well, I think the US had a bill last year. There was looking to create back doors for encryption so as to scan for Child pornography content. And the angle is, you know, child pornography is being passed through encrypted channels. So let’s create a backdoor and filter traffic for this kind of material. But once you create a backdoor for encryption, then it’s not encrypted is it? It’s a pretty binary thing that encrypted or not. So, there’s a lot of narratives in the space to open up encryption. You see? Like I said earlier, freedom is a choice to accept that it’s a spectrum and to be free in your own way means the other people are free in their own ways, as well as you might not always like it. So that’s just, unfortunately, a reality that we have to accept. Otherwise, we have to accept, um, you know, 1984.
Amy: Yeah, but I, you know, what I didn’t realize is that I, I kind of assumed that encryption would be illegal in China but actually I read Finland, they can just straight up request your encryption key is, and you have to give them over. Yeah. So it’s encrypted, but like, if the government wants your encryption keys, they can just have them.
Sharmini: Well, I think that’s the problem because we live in a legal infrastructure. So when you have a company that needs to comply to a legal infrastructure in a specific way, then you have a company that has his best interest, which is to stop the company from being sued by the government, which will comply.
So that’s why I think it’s a war against centralization because it’s not actually the companies fault that they live with legal infrastructure to operate. That’s just kind of the way the world works. So once we look at a fundamental shift in this and we look at decentralization, then you have a system that kind of is able to resist in a specific way and also open in a specific way. Cause what is illegal in Uganda is very different from what is legal in the US and like in the case of Mysterium VPN you have a guy pinging the US server and gaining all the excess that a US resident has from his home in Uganda. Right? So that for me is pretty amazing.
It’s compared to like him using a VPN and the VPN company being contacted by the Ugandan government is a terrible metaphor. I’m going to keep going with it. And you know, them sharing his data because what are they going to go do? Find the guy in the US who’s unknown address. It’s not possible.
So I think that it allows people in regulatory spaces that are very oppressive access. And that that’s fundamentally what we heard about repeated open, open the internet.
Amy: Yeah. Yeah. There’s a Brene Brown quote I think, I think it’s, Brene Brown. I’m not actually sure, but somebody I listened to you talks about how everything was made to have a rule.
Sharmini: So law and government, they were all built on a set of rules and then everything else that doesn’t fall into a rule is art. And so it’s like the uncategorized bucket is technology art and all of these things that become really innovative because they are not governed by a set of rules.
So I think that Mysterium definitely falls into this category where we’re trying to, uh, not like break the rules, but break out of the system and Not necessarily a follow like the regulatory governing systems that are set in place that don’t serve open communication and builds trust within communities.
So the fundamental thing, we get this question a lot internally, especially from our node runner community, which is what is my liability, like what happens if something gets passed through my node that is not kosher. So there’s two ways in which we’ve tackled it. One is we teamed up with another DVP and in the space and we created legal advisory, not legal advice, but legal advisory content tips on how to run a note and protect yourself, templates, emails, how to understand whether or not this is a real claim or not and that was one way we’ve dealt with it.
And the second way we’ve dealt with it is we’re working on white lists as a feature, which allows nodes to choose what kind of traffic that they let through their node. So you can on a global level, I will let social media traffic through. I’m going to let we compete your traffic through, but I’m not really interested in letting.
Adult entertainment run through my note and then you can set those parameters and then traffic that is pinging towards that specific domain will just come through your node. And that’s the technological way we’re looking to solve that. We’re in, like we’ve released one version of it. And I think we’re going to be working on releasing it later this year.
So that’s super exciting because it’s going to help us scale our node network. Cause right now I’m not sure you’ve heard of Tor browser?
Sharmini: So Tor browser was an ex US Navy project. And they’re like the old school DVPN and yeah, they’re exit nodes, a bunch of exit nodes runs globally, and people can use a browser and connect to it.
We’re different in the sense that we are a VPN. So it’s not just the browser traffic that’s encrypted. It is all traffic running through your machine. Right. So, Tor has had several cases come up against their exit IPS, but none of them have stood up in court. So it just goes to show that like, and Tor had been around for 10 years.
So in that sense, it goes to show that the legal precedent doesn’t exist at the moment for this kind of project, and we, and as technologists, we’re always going to be slightly ahead of regulation. Regulation is going to follow. And I hope with some of the working groups that I sit on, we’re able to work with legislators to help them understand the technology a bit better so that they’re not like let’s open encryption up with backdoors. I’m like that doesn’t make any sense. You know, we were working really hard also to educate on a regulatory level because these guys don’t completely spend all the time in the tech space, you know?
So it’s, it’s a piece of work to move the entire system to understand what we’re building and be slightly ahead. I think.
Amy: Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s really interesting. Do you know who Ross Ulbricht?
Sharmini: Oh my God. His name sounds familiar.
Sharmini: Ulbricht is a computer scientist Googling him. Oh, darknet, silk road dude. Yes. Yes. Yeah. Yeah, I’m very bad with names, very bad names, but yeah. Silk Road, one of the darknets, older ones, one of the older marketplaces in the, on the darknet. but so the thing is Tor browser is not just for the darknet yeah? Like it also can be used to serve the regular old web so it has a bit of a bad rep. Um, it’s very slow. Don’t try and watch a movie on tour, watch a movie,
but that’s because you’re pinging across multiple IP addresses. So it has multi hops, right? Like, and in that sense, it’s a little bit more private than Mysterium Network. Whereas with Mysterium at the current stage, we have one hop to a residential IP. We will be introducing multicast later, but I’ll primary use case is unblocking content and we know humanity has a very short attention span. So if they have to wait for it, they’re not going to, so currently one hop and multi hops coming soon.
Amy: Right. But with one hop, is there a concern that someone would be using my IP address continually using my IP address alone to do illegal activities. And then that would transfer legal, ownership to me, or there’s no precedent for that yet. Right?
Sharmini: There’s no precedent for that at the moment. So that’s the, that’s the reality. And also with one hop, like you don’t at Tor exit nodes are selected when you first opened the browser, you don’t actually select exit nodes on the browser, but with like with the Mysterium DVPN, you can set parameters on pricing, on the quality that you want, a streaming, et cetera.
And. Then you get the list of options and you just click on one I’m connect. So if you keep changing up as a user, your exit node, then you know, you’re not parsing your traffic through the same node all the time and you’re distributing your risk.
Amy: Yeah. Right. As a user kind of, I decide who comes into my network and who doesn’t.
Sharmini: As a user, nobody’s coming into your network as a node.
Amy: Uh, yeah. Can I decide who is using my IP address?
Sharmini: No, you can’t. Cause we’re still in testing it. We didn’t test at 2.0. We just upgraded. We’re going to be really seeing our MADEC integration very soon to make transactions cheaper, then move on to main net and this kind of thing on not so much who, but what, this is what traffic slicing was.
That’s what I was talking about. I think it’s more global to let the node right choose, what kind of traffic comes through there? Like that’s, I think that’s more important as a use case kind of piece for them as compared to who we might actually, now that you talk about it, think about like certain geographic regions you want to block if you decide as somebody in the US you do not want to let Russian traffic come through, then you might be able to do that.
But, like I said, that’s a much later feature we want to get on Ethereum main net first. I think that’s our biggest priority for this year.
Amy: Yeah. Yeah. Very exciting. So what else is in the pipeline or coming for Mysterium?
Sharmini: Oh, my gosh. I’m so it’s, there’s so many things we’ve been moving really, really quickly.
Like I said, grew our user base on monthly active user base by 25%. I just looked at the numbers earlier for some reporting in just this quarter and this came alongside with a migration from our first test net to our second test net, which is on their girly test net and integrated with moving into integration with Maddix.
So that’s a big piece. The medic integration is a huge piece because it reduces the cost of Do users entering the network cause MADEC makes transaction fees like a million times cheaper than the Ethereum blockchain. And we all know what’s happening with gas fees in this industry right now. Right. So it doesn’t make any sense. Hey, you can pay 6 cents for the movie, but pay $15 to top up your account. So it’s um the medic integration was going to be. Or us, following that we also releasing in the next couple of weeks, a complete facelift on our mobile apps. We’re working on our windows apps facelifts, Mac app facelifts.
And so user experience quarter, I would say. iOS app coming soon. There’s just so much going on and that’s just on an app level. We’re also really working super hard to build out ecosystem partners. So finding people who can go to market within specific regions like China and Ukraine for complimentary software that will help people on the ground communicate more freely.
That’s something that’s coming up in the next couple of months too. So I’m super excited about that cause I’m quite driven by impact. And I think this piece is going to really drive access to information for people on the ground. And that’s something I’m excited about. So much, we, you should download our app and tell us what you think. A lot of quality parameter improvements, which are very boring, but mean that the app runs so much smoother than it used to and it’s a joy to use right now. So I’d love to know what you think if you haven’t already used it.
Amy: Awesome. Okay. I’ll let you know. Well, Sharmi, thanks so much for joining. If our listeners want to find you and Mysterium networks, where can they look?
Sharmini: So you can check us out on mysterium.network and you can follow me on Twitter at the underscore sharmini
Perfect. Okay. Thank you so much. Thank you, Amy. This has been really fun.
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