The Internet is without a doubt one of the most important inventions in modern history. Never before have we had unfettered access to the wealth of the world’s knowledge with just a few keystrokes.
It’s also a flawed vehicle that’s ripe for corruption, and Kim Dotcom hopes to change all that.
According to him, MegaNet will be a newer, better version of the same Internet we all know and love. It’ll feature heavy end-to-end encryption, no IP addresses, and a decentralized structure that makes operation a “for the people, by the people” proposition rather than relying on gatekeepers and government regulation.
It’s ambitious, to say the least.
What Is MegaNet?
In short, the plan for MegaNet is an Internet that’s free from government rule, hackers, and those looking to exploit the massive amounts of data we all leave behind on the Web as we use it. To get there, Dotcom plans to use a lot of technology that we’re already using, most notably: smartphones.
The plan involves using the collective processing power, storage, and bandwidth of hundreds of millions of smartphone users. Each user will donate data to be consumed during those idle periods when they aren’t using it — while they’re sleeping, for example. This data will then be pooled to create the resources needed to send and store files from all corners of the globe.
It’s a similar concept to how a botnet works, except without all of the malice.
MegaNet is intended to be safer for its users by making heavy use of encryption to keep data packets secure from prying eyes. This would prevent the increasingly common data leaks — often including credit card and bank account info — that plague the Web today.
MegaNet will also rely on the blockchain, which is a public ledger that records and stores Bitcoin transactions. Instead of Bitcoin transactions, however, this modified version of the blockchain would store files so that they’re accessible at all times without relying on the traditional server technology we use today.
Instead, chunks of data that make up the Internet — or more accurately, the MegaNet — would be distributed across the globe and then accessed directly from your device.
To keep the MegaNet online at all times — in case the user hosting the file is offline when you attempt to access it — these files would be spread across the globe and multiple users would host each file, or at least pieces of each file.
Why Is MegaNet Even Necessary?
Anecdotally, I think we’re all feeling the pinch of data breaches and government spying.
But if we look at qualitative means, such as this survey by NCC Group, we’ll see that 77 percent of online shoppers don’t feel completely confident that they won’t be part of a data breach, 62 percent are more concerned with online security than they’ve ever been, and 64 percent believe that they’ll be the victim of a breach in the next twelve months.
Not only that, but almost 40 percent of Americans are “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about government monitoring of online traffic, according to Pew Research. A nearly identical number expressed concern about government monitoring of their cell phone activity.
Privacy aside, there’s also a really big elephant in the room that nobody seems to want to address: who actually controls the Internet? While there isn’t a governing body, per se, the U.S. Government has taken it upon itself in recent years to police the Internet — and not just in the United States.
Kim Dotcom has firsthand experience with this, as he’s currently awaiting an appeal after being cleared for extradition to the United States to stand trial for federal racketeering, money laundering, and copyright infringement charges.
Aside from the Dotcom example, the U.S. Government was also the most integral influence in Sweden’s — a country with notoriously lax copyright laws — decision to send Pirate Bay co-founders Frederik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm, and Peter Sunde to prison for facilitating copyright infringement through their popular torrent site.
Ultimately, MegaNet isn’t just about security and privacy from hackers and the prying eyes of the government. It’s about creating an Internet that’s virtually untouchable. Without IP addresses, individuals and websites can’t be hacked. You can’t run DDoS attacks. You can’t pull websites down for violations of the laws of any single governing body.
MegaNet is about freedom and transparency, things the Internet was praised for at inception but seems poised to lose as its foundation crumbles under the weight of it all.
Can MegaNet Actually Happen?
Yes, but it probably won’t, at least as Dotcom currently describes it.
The Internet is constantly evolving. We’ve moved from HTTP to HTTPS in recent years to shore up security through better encryption. We’re in the process of switching from IPv4 to IPv6 to provide more IP addresses. We’re debating appropriate levels of privacy versus loss of liberty.
We’re still in the infancy stages of the Internet, and it’s only natural that it continues to grow and adapt to the changing needs of its users.
Dotcom’s service has a number of problems, not the least of which is the fact that he could be facing a lengthy prison sentence in the United States should he lose his appeal. Another roadblock to consider is government interference, which could grind the whole process to a halt by outlawing the technologies that the service is built upon.
So far, tethering hundreds of millions of cell phones, building in safeguards that prevent government intrusion, and anonymizing currency transfers through use of the blockchain are all in a legal gray area. Any or all of these could be banned, which would effectively end MegaNet before it ever built up the steam it needs to take off.
Speaking of taking off, that’s another major flaw in the theory. In order to reach critical mass, MegaNet needs a staggeringly high number of users to make this even feasible. Dotcom says he predicts 100 million users will sign up in the first year. As astronomical as that number seems, it’s not even clear if that would be enough to avoid major bottlenecks.
MegaNet, it appears, might be far before its time. In order to execute something at this grand a scale, you need one of two things to happen:
- A good deal of the world’s population to be contributing resources via smartphone data.
- Technology to improve.
We’re certain of number two, but the adoption numbers strike me as, well, optimistic. I wouldn’t argue against a need for this kind of service, but as a tech writer, it’s quite clear that the general public wouldn’t understand this nor have any real inclination as to why it was needed (without a healthy dose of education).
If it were as simple as “this is better than what you’re currently using”, we’d all be using Bitcoin by now, and we all know that isn’t happening any time soon. Consumer education remains a significant hurdle to adoption. With lower adoption numbers, the technology needs to get more sophisticated in order to avoid bottlenecks.
We should also note that this is very much a theoretical proposition at this point. The science checks out, the technology is available, and Web users are more security-conscious than ever, but changing consumer behaviors is a tricky proposition.
Dotcom and his team have their work cut out for them, but we’ll get our first glimpse of MegaNet at some point in 2016.
What do you think of a private Internet without IP addresses? Would you use it?
Image Credit: Kim Dotcom addresses the crowd by Peter Harrison via Flickr