One of the purposes of cryptocurrencies was to send money in a semi anonymous fashion across the world. This idea of privacy is one of the reasons that the technology has captivated the privacy conscious. Yet, as we have taken new steps in making payments private, browsing the web is still far from completely anonymous.
That is something that a number of notable investors and developers are trying to change. Orchid labs has received a total of at least $4.7m in venture funding for the development of a truly private internet. Some of the high level names in the funding included Andreessen Horowitz, Compound VC, Danhua, Crunchfund, Poluchain capital, Sequoia and Struck Capital to name a few.
The people behind the project are also well known in the cryptocurrency and startup community. One of the co-founders is Steve Waterhouse who served a number of years at Pantera Capital where he invested in a number of blockchain startups. Another co-founder is Jay Freeman who is a software engineer and developer on the Cydia software distribution that is used on millions of jailbroken iPhone devices. They are also joined by Gustav Simonsson (an Ethereum Developer), Brian Fox and Stephen Bell.
The Mission of Orchid
The drive behind the Orchid project is take on the excessive powers of both the state and the companies that have undue tracking power. They see the growing surveillance and censorship in oppressive countries as more reason for privacy on the internet.
This is also something that hit home for Steve Waterhouse as he was recently the victim of a hack. This came at a time when he was researching ideas for AI and enterprise software. Once the hack occurred, all of this information was exposed and left him with a bitter taste in his mouth. He said :
That really woke me up....I was more concerned about surveillance, the idea that we don't have technologies to let people communicate without censorship
The threat may also be more pervasive than a hacking agent. For example, people who live in countries that have excessive oversight of a citizens browsing and transaction history would also find anonymizing technology imperative. Similarly, the technology could be implemented by large companies themselves as a way to anonymizing their traffic.
How Will it Work?
Orchid has not yet released a white paper so one cannot say for certainty what the technology will contain. Yet, there are a number of people familiar with the project who have stated that it is indeed in quite the advanced stages. They are planning to issue tokens as part of the project on the Ethereum blockchain.
Orchid will attempt to hide the traffic by providing software that can be used by the exit nodes on the network. As such, they will be working with the current technology instead of trying to change it.
The user experience with Orchard would not be altered but the tokens that the users have will be exchanged in order to make use of these nodes. This will mean that they will provide protection from their ISPs. Similarly, those people who are currently using VPNs would also benefit from the network as they will not have their browsing records logged.
The economics behind the token would be that the user would either spend the token to get privacy from the exit nodes, or they would run an exit node to receive these tokens. When a user decided to run a node, they would be sent a wallet application that could facilitate receiving the funds.
Although the traffic through the nodes could still be seen by your ISP, this would appear to look like normal browsing traffic. This is what many VPN technology providers do nowadays where traffic appears to the ISP as standard HTTPS requests.
The team is confident that governments would not be able to decrypt or infiltrate their network. From the USA to China there are fears that intelligence agencies have infiltrated a number of TOR nodes. Yet, with the Orchid technology the only way that a country could block the system would be to shut down the internet.
Roll Out of the Project
Waterhouse also pointed out that it would not be an attempt to restructure the nature in which the internet operates. It would merely allow for another method of using existing networks.
Instead of grand ideas of decentralizing the internet, the Orchid protocol could be thought of as an additional layer on top of the existing infrastructure. It would also not force users to follow strict privacy protocols as they would still be able to accept cookies on their browsers for example.
The software is currently in alpha at the moment and it will only be in early 2018 that the team expects a beta launch. They raised the financing through an equity arrangement called a SAFT. This will allow these early backers the oppurtunity to partake in the tokens.
The project will also hold a large stake in the tokens raised in order to incentivize the development team to maintain the network in the most efficient way possible.
Disclaimer: These are the writer’s opinions and should not be considered investment advice. Readers should do their own research.