How Blockchain Can Fix The Tor Project’s Biggest Flaws And Create A Truly Free Internet

The United Nations (UN), a forum of 193 nations, considers freedom of expression a fundamental human right, under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It is read:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and disseminate information and ideas by any means and regardless of frontiers”.

However, disinformation – false information deliberately spread to mislead people – has been one of the biggest threats to free speech and creates a loophole for organizations and governments to enforce censorship.

The problem, says the UN, is that there is no universally accepted definition of disinformation due to the different contexts – elections, wars, etc. — which raise concerns about disinformation.

The result: different governments and organizations create their own definition and censor everything that falls under it. This has led to withholding or limited access to information in some parts of the world. Countries like ChinaRussia, Iran and Turkey have been criticized for censorship, including denying citizens access to certain information and content online.

Savvy Internet users have been looking for ways to bypass government and corporate censorship through tools, including virtual private networks (VPNs) and the Tor network, which allow for varying degrees of private and secure connection to the Internet.

But these tools don’t offer foolproof privacy or have flaws in the user experience.

Tomi, a Web3 company, believes it has a more efficient solution to help people in places subject to heavy censorship and surveillance gain fair access to information through its parallel Internet network called TomiNet.

“What we’re creating is an alternative Internet that we believe is what the Internet would look like if it were created today,” says Techno Prince, a pseudonymous member of Tomi’s founding team. “When the Internet was created, I’m sure they wanted to allow freedom of information and speech, but because the architecture of the technology includes [internet protocols] IP and centralized entities such as [Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers] ICANN controls domain names, the result is that governments can, through IPs, know who says what, go after them and block websites.

“IPs are a major vulnerability in the architecture of the Internet.”

Tor, short for The Onion Routing project, is the closest thing to TomiNet, says Prince. The difference is that Tomì wants to fix what it considers flaws in Tor’s configuration.

“Tor is the first significant attempt to liberate the internet, but them [made] some mistakes; it has become a darknet instead of a free network because there is no governance in this network,” Prince said. “The result has been that it has become a haven for criminals, pedophiles and other bad actors.”

However, Tomi identifies the value of Tor’s underlying architecture and is incorporating some of Tor’s privacy features into its parallel Internet.

“We are using Onion Protocol IP encryption technology, but with our own blockchain technology [Domain Name System] DNS,” Prince said.

This is to alleviate the usability issues plaguing the Tor network. Onion addresses are not as easily readable as familiar domain names; consist of a string of 56 letters and numbers followed by “.onion”.

Prince said Tomi routes his onion addresses to traditional-looking domain names. The difference is that those domain names must be purchased within the Tomi ecosystem. Essentially, a news website that wants to reach worldwide readers without restrictions can purchase a .com domain name and host a version of their website within TomiNet. Users can visit TomiNet websites through the Tomi browser.

Furthermore, Tomi hopes to avoid the creation of a web space for illegal activities by introducing a level of governance. TomiNet is designed to be fully controlled by a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO
), allowing community participants to monitor and censor the network.

Prince says the DAO is completely decentralized and on-chain and already has every possible governance scenario and processes encoded in a smart contract. Essentially, users will be able to vote on decisions ranging from censorship, treasury management, replacement of the lead development team, etc., and the smart contract will automatically execute the prevailing decisions. Tomi is building her network to be fully controlled by a DAO to limit individual influence.

Using a Tor-like architecture and adding a layer of governance, Tomi hopes to build a parallel web that is accessible to all and resistant to government and corporate censorship.

While this is exciting in theory, the project will likely encounter centralized resistance, potentially significant enough to hamper its chances of success. For example, the project could address some of the challenges that Tor also faces.

There have been instances where governments have attempted to block citizens from accessing Tor. As recently as December 2021, Russia’s media regulator Roskomnadzor issued a court order allowing it to charge Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block the Tor website, which is the main source of the Tor Browser. In China, the Tor website is completely banned, and users often have to download the Tor browser through third-party websites. Tomi may find himself fighting these same battles.

There is also the issue of competing with the billion and trillion dollar companies behind the major browsers like Google Chrome, Safari, Edge, etc. Tomi would need a large marketing budget to have even the slightest chance to challenge these incumbents and build a good public image for the project. And even then, success isn’t guaranteed. It is not known how consumers would receive it. Researchers have evidence found that individuals in heavily censored regions such as China “generally do not expend significant energy finding censored or alternative sources of information” in normal times. The desire to find censored information only increases in times of crisis.

When asked about these meetings, Prince said: “We are aware of the challenges ahead. When you weigh the potential gains of a truly free-for-the-world network against the costs, it becomes clearer that it’s worth a try.”