Email over blockchain: the best bad idea I’ve heard this year

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It has become an established joke that blockchain is a technology in search of a problem to be solved. While this joke is deliberately provocative, designed to steer a community of thin-skinned enthusiasts, there is also a grain of truth.

Since the emergence of cryptocurrency, the first use case for blockchain, entrepreneurs have come up with dozens of alternative applications for the technology, which can be thought of as a time stamp. database of transactions distributed among the members of a network.

With varying degrees of success, blockchain has been applied to areas ranging from supply chain management and corporate data protection to identity verification and more. The emergence of (Challenge), meanwhile, saw the blockchain being used to facilitate lending, peer-to-peer borrowing, etc.

Decentralized

Now, a company called Pingala Software believes it has come up with the latest killer use case. Earlier this year, the company launched LedgerMail, a product touted as “the world’s first decentralized messaging solution”. The service promises to free users from privacy breaches, unsecured message transfer protocols, and centralized power abuse.

However, LedgerMail also relieves users of a number of aspects of traditional email that they might want to keep. In fact, so fundamental are the differences, it might be considered misleading to characterize LedgerMail as a mail service at all.

The case in favor

Talk to TechRadar Pro more Zoom, Suraj Malla, vice president of marketing and sales at Pingala, methodically advocated for blockchain-based email.

To understand the benefits, however, it is first important to understand the attributes that define a public blockchain network:

  • Decentralization: No single entity is solely responsible for the green light, verification and processing of transactions (in this context, an exchange of data in the form of an electronic message).
  • Immutability: Once a transaction has been verified by consensus vote and saved to the chain, it cannot be edited, deleted, or otherwise tampered with.
  • Auditability: While network participants can remain anonymous, all transactions are open to public scrutiny.

According to Malla, this combination of qualities means that the blockchain is uniquely equipped to neutralize one by one the significant issues with the traditional messaging systems we rely on today.

For example, the massive collection of email data by Google and Microsoft is made possible by the centralization of power and control. “But with LedgerMail, there is no centralized authority to manage and control your data,” Malla explained. “And that also means there is no central point of failure.”

E-mail

(Image credit: Shutterstock / 1494)

Likewise, a large part of e-mail cyber attacks are made possible by the continued use of archaic transfer protocols (like IMAP and SMTP). But LedgerMail is replacing email transfer protocols with blockchain, which Malla described as “one of the most secure technologies in the modern world.”

Although LedgerMail users can still send malicious content to themselves, spoofing and phishing attacks (a major problem with traditional email) are made much more difficult by a whitelist-type mechanism, in conjunction with the natural transparency of a blockchain-based system. .

And, finally, LedgerMail encrypts all message content and attachments, meaning that only the sender and recipient can potentially access the material.

To its credit, Pingala had some early success with LedgerMail, attracting 400,000 users in the first two months, including a number of corporate clients. And there is clearly a large market for products that uphold data privacy in this way; just look at the growth of the VPN industry.

However, the company is only too happy to gloss over the problems with its proposal, which are as varied and important as the problems it is trying to solve.

The much larger case against

When we spoke, Malla was proud to tell us that 24,000 emails had been exchanged using LedgerMail in the past 24 hours; the implication was that the platform was rapidly gaining ground. Inadvertently, however, this bragging brought attention to the first of the major LedgerMail system problems: scalability.

LedgerMail is based on a little-known blockchain called XinFin, a proof-of-stake network that draws on the traditions of private and public blockchain. Thanks to a number of smart design features, XinFin enjoys a much higher throughput than Bitcoin or Ethereum, reaching over 2,000 transactions per second.

However, despite these innovations, the network still tops out at around 173 million transactions per day, or around 0.06% of 319.6 billion emails which currently pass in both directions during the same period. And remember, LedgerMail must also share XinFin with other blockchain-based services.

Closely related to a second issue is the issue of scalability: cost. Although it is free to create a LedgerMail account, it is not free to send email. Like all public blockchain networks, each exchange of value or information incurs transaction fees. These fees encourage participation in the network, which in turn ensures a high level of security and redundancy.

In the case of the XinFin network, the transaction fees are remarkably low; Pingala says it costs around 1 / 800th of a dollar to send a LedgerMail email. However, the value of transaction fees is directly related to the amount of traffic on a network. So, in a hypothetical scenario where LedgerMail becomes immensely popular and users flood the XinFin network, emails will become significantly more expensive (even if the cap is a million times lower than the Ethereum network). Given that only a tiny fraction of people currently pay for the privilege of emailing, it’s hard to imagine the concept working so well.

The biggest problem with LedgerMail, however, is that it is a closed loop system. That is, users can only send messages to other people with LedgerMail accounts – and even then only if they are on the recipient’s approved contact list.

Email has lasted over 50 years in large part thanks to its universality; anyone with an Internet connection can have an email account, and anyone with an email account can communicate with anyone else.

While Pingala has made exemptions to allow users to sign up for LedgerMail using an existing email account, a simple signup process doesn’t compensate for the platform’s not allowing free and open communication. In this regard, can LedgerMail even be considered an email service?

Service without e-mail

After more back and forth over the model’s shortcomings, Pingala founder Vinay Krishna (who was also on call) finally conceded that LedgerMail is not a service that will ultimately replace traditional email. . Rather, it is a product that people can use occasionally when exchanging particularly sensitive information.

“For all normal emails that don’t contain sensitive information, people can still use regular emails,” he suggested. “But when people want to make sure information stays private, that’s when they use LedgerMail.”

In this sense, LedgerMail shares more DNA with encrypted messaging services like Signal or Telegram (neither of which require a blockchain, by the way) with Gmail or Yahoo !.

Ultimately, the problems Pingala aims to solve are real. All internet users deserve to be protected from Big Tech intrusions, and they also deserve to be protected from the army of cybercriminals in their inboxes.

However, the scale at which the company sets out to solve these problems is microscopic; with the various caveats and limitations, LedgerMail won’t even dig a hole. It’s the best bad idea I’ve heard this year.


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