New Social Media Platform Instars Leverages Privacy-Enhancing Cryptography

Instar leverages blockchain and multiparty computation to protect user data.

Feb 24, 2021 at 2:00 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 12:16 p.m. UTC

Partisia Blockchain, a Web 3.0 platform, and Insights Network, a market research firm, have partnered to launch Instars, a decentralized and privacy-focused social media platform. 

A release regarding the launch claims it will be the first integration of blockchain and multiparty computation to protect privacy on a social media platform. 

Earlier this month, Partisia Blockchain received a €120K grant (approximately US$145.7K) from the European Union-funded Next Generation Internet Trust (NGI Trust) to work on a new alternative search engine to those like Google that would be more private and have fewer ads. 

“It took the last several years of intense development work in partnership with some of the world's leading cryptographers at Partisia Blockchain to create a complete end-to-end solution combining MPC and blockchain,” said Brian Gallagher, co-founder and CEO of Insights Network in an email. “We couldn't be more excited to finally roll out our social platform that transfers all of the economic benefit to the user base rather than centralized tech giants.”

What is MPC?

Multiparty Computation (MPC) is basically the computer invented again as a decentralized encrypted computer, according to Kurt Nielsen, co-founder and president of Partisia Blockchain. 

It allows for large pools of data to stay encrypted while permitting information to be extracted from those data pools using encrypted computations.

CoinDesk’s Chief Content Officer Michael Casey described the process in relation to it being used by the cryptocurrency wallet ZenGo:

“With this approach, multiple non-trusting computers can each conduct computation on their own unique fragments of a larger data set to collectively produce a desired common outcome without any one node knowing the details of the others’ fragments.”

Nielsen said a common explanation of MPC for a general audience uses the "millionaires problem." Using MPC, for example, several individuals could submit their bank account details into a secret "pool" of data. You would be able to determine who is the wealthiest of the group, without knowing anything about the contents or details of everyone in the pool's financial information, because of MPC. 

This is one of the many examples of various cryptographic techniques that have found additional traction with the rise of cryptocurrencies and shows how they can spill over into other use cases. 

“For the social media industry, this creates a new age system where data no longer has to be siloed in centralized servers, and each user’s information is fully exposed to whoever owns the server (for example, Facebook),” said Nielsen. “Rather, each user's device can hold all of their demographic and profile data locally and fully encrypted.” 

Using MPC, this data can still be targeted by advertisers, but in a way where the users’ sensitive information is kept personal, on their own device, and they're able to consent and opt into each attempt at an advertisement from the requesting parties.

The problem of centralization extends beyond social media, with centralized repositories of information, whether that be social media companies, health care providers, or even the federal government becoming a target for actors that want the information they have. 

Instars

Instars, the social media platform launched today, gives users the choice to opt into every interaction, rather than having to opt-out of certain features as most social media platforms require now. In doing so, “users receive instant, direct economic benefit in the form of INSTAR tokens deposited to their personal wallet from advertisers who want to reach and engage them,” said Nielsen. 

Users can also be awarded in DAI, EOS, and USDC.

Neilson contends it's also better for advertisers, as they now have direct engagement with their audience rather than simple clicks and views.

Instars uses smart contracts on the Instars blockchain to create a direct connection between a requester, such as an advertiser, and users of the network. Cryptocurrency is held in the smart contract, and then paid directly to the users' Instar wallet when they view an ad or complete a targeted survey.

“Partisia Blockchain's MPC technology is used to create "matches" between these requesters and providers, by first encrypting users' profile data locally on their devices, such as on their android, rather than on a centralized server,” said Nielsen. 

Integrating MPC technology also means advertisers can poll the devices connected to the network and find matches without ever needing to know the users' actual profile data information. 

When matches are created, economic value is transferred directly to the user, rather than the centralized company, like Facebook, which takes all of the ad revenue from the platform, according to Nielsen. 

The idea of data sovereignty and giving people control over their data is one that has percolated throughout the world of crypto and blockchain. A number of projects have worked to address it, with debates playing out about how much an individual’s data is actually worth, versus aggregate user data that social media companies offer up to advertisers.  

INSTAR token

INSTAR is integrated throughout the platform. Users can include an INSTAR tip when sending a friend request or charge an INSTAR entrance fee for a private group. In order to “like” someone’s post, a user will have to tip with INSTAR.  

Built into the smart contracts are also savings incentives, according to Nielsen, such as automated APR on your cryptocurrency when it is staked to the blockchain.

There are already a number of decentralized social media networks out there such as Twetch, Mastodon and others, but the addition of MPC tech in this instance creates an interesting model for protecting user data while offering an incentive to advertisers. 

“It will be quite an experiment and we hope people will take notice and give it a try,” said Gallagher. “Many people complain about the censorship by Big Tech, the de-platforming, the abusive targeting and use of our data, yet the daily active user numbers continue to increase across all of these platforms. It's going to take a paradigm shift and people to switch platforms for any real change to come. Let's see if that happens.”

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