BitTorrent was founded on a few simple core principles. Uphold user privacy, and user control. Keep the web free, open, and accessible to all.
This is what keeps us up at night. And this is what keeps us coding. Every two months, we dedicate two days to all-company hackathons (Paloozas, we call them). It’s free time to build and vet distributed concepts. And it’s often where awesome ideas come from. Winners of these events graduate to BitTorrent Labs. BitTorrent Sync came from Palooza. So did Bundle.
Over the past 6 months, it’s become increasingly clear that we need to devote hackathons, hours and resources to developing a messaging app that protects user privacy. We’ve seen this basic right of communication compromised, over and over again, in 2013. User control has become a casualty of centralization. The thing is, Internet doesn’t need to work this way.
Current chat apps rely on centralized, cloud-based servers that store user messages. This is true even of “private” messaging services, like Snapchat.
And that means they’re vulnerable: to hackers, to NSA dragnet surveillance sweeps. While we’re hearing legislative calls to curb domestic spying, and corporate assurances regarding user privacy, we can’t rely on these systems. Statements like “just because we can, doesn’t mean we should” don’t guarantee user privacy. They do guarantee provider access: we can.
As Joshua Kopstein pointed out last week in The New Yorker’s Elements Blog, decentralized systems can solve for surveillance, privacy, and more. Distributed products create infrastructure efficiencies. They prevent single points of failure. And they put end users in control of data. Not the cloud. Technology can solve what legislation cannot.
And that’s where BitTorrent Chat comes in. We’re building a product that allows you to talk to your friends using peer-to-peer. No central authority required.
We put out a call for testers in September, and have received an enthusiastic response. Today, BitTorrent software engineer Abe Goldoor explains our unique technical approach to creating a serverless chat product. In our solution, the Distributed Hash Table (DHT) replaces the need for a server when two people are trying to connect. You can read about that here.
In a related post, BitTorrent’s Chief Architect Arvid Norberg shares an update to the DHT bootstrap server. This update makes it open source and also refines the security, a step toward building BitTorrent Chat.