Human Rights Foundation Grants Will Advance Bitcoin DeFi, Education and Activism

The software innovations and educational efforts align with the HRF's mandate to protect human rights.

AccessTimeIconMar 2, 2021 at 6:41 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 12:20 p.m. UTC
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The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) dished out another round of Bitcoin development grants today.

These grants are the latest from the nonprofit in a series of gifts to developers and designers who work on Bitcoin’s open source software. Or, in this instance, software and education.

The funds are dispersed among four separate projects: one to Bitcoin developer Jesse Posner, one to Bitcoin Lightning Network wallet Muun, one to independent privacy journalist Janine and one to open-source incubator Blockchain Commons.

Per the Human Rights Foundation’s mission to foster innovation “to unite the world against tyranny,” the grants to Blockchain Commons and Janine of $10,000 in bitcoin each will fund activism onboarding and educational efforts, respectively. 

On the software side, the HRF grant to Argentina-based Muun wallet will go toward improving non-custodial payments technology, and Posner’s grant funds work on bringing the next generation of so-called decentralized financial (DeFi) applications on Bitcoin. Each of these projects will receive $25,000 in bitcoin.

In particular, the HRF believes the work by Muun and Posner will be invaluable for creating better key management practices, more efficient wallet design and more robust smart contracts that will make bitcoin more usable for everyone, especially those who need it most.

Muun wallet

Drawing on the Lightning Network – a secondary protocol built on top of Bitcoin’s primary network to facilitate fast, penny-fee payments – Argentinian Muun wallet will use its funding to “make Bitcoin more accessible to everyone,” founder Dario Sneidermanis told CoinDesk.

“Being Argentinians, we’ve seen first-hand why this is sorely needed, maybe a little bit earlier than the rest of the world, so it’s important that organizations such as the HRF are paying attention to this.”

Muun is a non-custodial Lightning Network wallet that is enjoying growing popularity in Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America that has, in some places, wellsprings of Bitcoin adoption.

To increase this adoption, the pain points in Bitcoin wallet technology, particularly regarding self-custody, needs improving “to completely remove the incentive of using custodial services just for the fear of losing one’s bitcoins,” said Sneidermanis. 

As fees rise, things like Lightning need work with low-connectivity, low-ram phones and language support needs to expand beyond the English tongue as well, he said.

Education and activism

Independent journalist Janine has been at the forefront of exposing some of the crypto industry’s more damning stories. For example, she was the first to sound the horn about Coinbase's acquisition of ethically dubious software surveillance firm Neutrino.

In recent years she’s split her time between internet privacy and Bitcoin podcast Block Digest as well as launching her own cypherpunk-focused newsletter, This Month in Privacy, a monthly catalog of everything that’s happening in the realm of Bitcoin, internet privacy and other cyber happenings.

"Whether you believe privacy is a human right or a human fight, protecting financial access and privacy should be an essential part of that mission," Janine told CoinDesk.

"The last thing I want is for the harmful policies and exclusionary structures of traditional finance to be ported into Bitcoin. I started my newsletter on that basis, and I am glad that so many people are becoming interested in this topic, too."

She told CoinDesk she may use the funding from HRF to give the blog a multi-media component, such as a conference call Q&A for readers. Per reader requests, she's toying with the idea of a web privacy guide, which would include Bitcoin resources, among other tips.

The Blockchain Commons, a not-for-profit benefit corporation that hosts Bitcoin development internships and designs open source software, will also use its funding for education and to set up HRF activists with bitcoin tools.

The bitcoin grant will fund a new activism internship. Colleges students who receive the internship will assist citizens and activists in economically disadvantaged areas to set up Bitcoin wallets, payment software and full nodes to ease their onboarding into the Bitcoin economy. 

"Interns will have the opportunity to self select into HRF-aligned projects, and we expect a third of the workload this summer to have a direct activist focus," Blockchain Commons' Vinay Taylor told CoinDesk.

Discrete log contract 'stablecoins'

Once a lawyer, now a Bitcoin developer who used to do key management for Coinbase, Posner now focuses on Discrete Log Contracts (DLCs), threshold signatures and adapter signatures. All are complex, cryptographic tricks that can create the conditions for more creative financial contracts on the Bitcoin network. 

With DLCs, for instance, which Posner develops with software firm Suredbits, you can create smart contracts to escrow bets. Suredbits founder and BTCPay Server creator Nicola Dorier entered in one for the U.S. presidential election, but another, more novel application comes in the form of what Suredbits calls the “stable not a coin."

More formally known as a Contract for Difference (CFD), this DLC allows two parties to enter into a contract wherein one side pays the other if bitcoin goes up and vice versa if it goes down. The idea is to offer one party exposure to a stabilized price so that the balance of their bitcoin in escrow is always on par with a specified dollar amount.

Under these conditions, one side is technically “long” bitcoin and the other is “short.” For example, let’s say Alice and Bob both deposit 1 BTC each (at $50K BTC) into a CFD and Bob is on the “short” side, meaning he expects bitcoin to go down and thus wants a safety net. If bitcoin does go down (let’s say, 50%), then Alice would pay him the $25K difference in bitcoin to make him whole (so instead of losing $25K on a 50% drawdown, Bob still has $50K worth of bitcoin). But if bitcoin goes up, then Bob pays Alice this difference.

This financial application is just one of many possibilities for a future of decentralized financial markets on Bitcoin, Posner told CoinDesk. One benefit of DLCs, he continued, is that almost all of the data regarding the contract specifics is computed off chain. This should give these contracts privacy improvements over Ethereum smart contracts, Posner said, where trades can be sniped in the mempool and frontrun. 

“Jesse’s work and research helps lay the foundation for two key areas that will be important for Bitcoin users moving forward: more powerful and private multi-signature transactions and more flexible smart contracts, which will lead to the creation of DeFi features on the Bitcoin network,” Human Rights Foundation Chief Strategy Officer Alex Gladstein told CoinDesk. 


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