We are building Zbay because we want
a patch of online life that's controlled by the people of the
Internet. Not by one rich man in California, like Facebook is. Or by a
brutal dictatorship, like WeChat and TikTok are. Or by an advertising
company, like Youtube is.
Making such a space is really hard to do. Who makes it? Who hosts it? Who pays to keep it running? How does it remain controlled by the people, and address challenges existing spaces like Twitter or Facebook face, like spam or organized harassment?
Solving these problems is hard, both technically and institutionally, but we must try! The alternative is a world where governments and corporations control our online life and the global public sphere.
Now is the perfect moment to try, because a lot of the essential groundwork is finally coming into existence. There is a rich and growing stack of technical and institutional infrastructure to build on:
Examining each layer of this stack and how they function together reveals a path forward to a new online space that—as software, as a platform, and as a constellation of communities—is meaningfully controlled by the people of the Internet. We believe you can build communities on this stack that are more accountable, free and fair than communities on existing online platforms.
It’s amazing that we’re here and this is finally possible. A lot of this stuff would have been a pipe dream even a few years ago.
Free software (sometimes called “open source software”) provides an established, well-understood legal and social mechanism for guaranteeing that people have meaningful control over the underlying code of the software they use.
Free software has been around for four decades (longer depending on
how you count) so its track record of protecting the interests of
Internet users against governments and corporate monopolies is long,
varied and established.
It started in the year 1980 in Cambridge, Massachusetts when, while
fixing a broken printer, a software engineer in the bowels of an MIT
computer lab had a powerful revelation: he realized that software
makers had legal—and technical—power to control software users, and
that they could use this power in nefarious ways, to extort, spy,
censor, or worse.
This software engineer defined what he called the "four freedoms” to
rally software makers around a brighter future where software users
were in control, not under control. And he called software that gave
users these freedoms “free software.” The four freedoms were:
To protect and spread his vision for free software, he also created the GNU GPL, an ingenious legal contract that encoded the four freedoms into law. A software license, the GNU GPL gave software engineers a legal, contractual way to grant users and other engineers all four freedoms. It also required that any engineers who built on GNU GPL-licensed code also released their work under a similar license.
Because of this clever legal enforcement of reciprocity, the body of
code available under the GNU GPL grew like wildfire, making possible
so many major victories for both engineers and Internet users it’s
impossible to even name them all.
As with most social movements, free software’s biggest victories are
likely invisible: dystopian futures that simply never happened. But to
give a short list, here are some of the big ones:
With free software, any engineer can understand the code, change it, and distribute a competing version. This is called forking. You might not know how to code, but if a piece of free software is popular and doing something seriously anti-user, some irate developer out there will fork it for you. Free software creators know this, so they usually don’t bother being anti-user in the first place.
The guarantee that you can fork code and take it in a new direction creates deeper collaborative dynamics, where people who contribute value to the project benefit from gaining some (but not total) control over it. After all, why would your collaborators capriciously say no to a good idea when they benefit from your contributions to a mutually beneficial project?
Today, many modern software companies go against the interests of
their users. Advertising is a simple example. Given the choice, most
users would prefer to not be subjected to advertising at all, or at
least not give advertisers their data. But popular platforms like
Youtube, Facebook and Spotify still sell data to advertisers. If free
software is such a powerful guarantee, how are so many prominent
companies able to go against users’ interests?
The answer is simple: once free software is being run on computers we
don’t control, most of its guarantees are moot, and that’s how
services like Facebook, Youtube, and Spotify work. Some code runs on
your computer or phone, but much of it runs on computers controlled by
these companies, which you have no control over.
Because of the freedoms free software granted, companies can use
GPL-licensed code however they choose to. As long as they don’t
“distribute” it, they don’t have to give their users the four
freedoms. Selling an app counts as "distributing" software, but using
code to run a website (like Facebook.com or Google.com) does
Even worse, once Facebook and Google are running software on their
machines, users have no control over what code is running, even if it
is free software. Google might be using mostly free software to run
Gmail, and you might check Gmail using a free software email client or
web browser. But if Google decides to give the US government an easy
way to read your emails, how would you know? That’s happening on their
computer, not yours. If Facebook is doing something evil with your
data, that’s running on Facebook’s computer, not yours.
In the above cases free software might still be making the world
better by making the marketplace more competitive, or by making it
easier to unseat a monopoly. But for free software to provide a
meaningful guarantee to users, users cannot depend on code running on
computers outside their control. All of the important code needs to be
running on a user’s own machine for free software’s guarantee to
This is why, as more and more people used software shared by millions
running on servers outside their control, free software had a problem.
The free software movement's "four freedoms" only made sense when our
apps ran on *our* computers. Once we stopped downloading apps and
running them on our computers, and started mostly using websites like
Facebook or Youtube, or apps dependent on company servers like
Spotify, free software no longer provided a meaningful check on those
companies’ power to control users.
One way to build modern cloud services with free software is
federation, but doesn’t really solve the problem, as you can
see in the Gmail example above. Email is an example of a federated
protocol. There are traditional servers, which can be run by anyone,
from a big company like Google to a band of activists like
Riseup.net. And there are clients
that can connect to these servers, like Thunderbird, Outlook, the
Gmail website, or the Mail app on an iPhone. The problem with
federation is that you still have to trust the server, and you have no
idea what code it’s running or who it might be working for. Google
could give your emails to the government. The activists at Riseup
could be hacked without your—or their—knowledge by a well-funded spy
agency, or forced to hand over servers by a court order. Also, in
federated platforms with many stakeholders, progress on crucial
technical issues like privacy can stagnate because of difficulties in
coordination and aligning priorities: the state of the art in
end-to-end email encryption has barely made progress since the 1980s,
Peer-to-peer networks built on free software, on the other hand,
provide a real way to address the problem of trust. In a peer-to-peer
network, all the important code runs (or can be run) on each
participant’s computer. Peer-to-peer networks must by their nature be
very untrusting of other participants in the network, since anyone out
there could change their code to do something malicious. But if the
network is designed to not require trust, and you’re running free
software code on your computer, a peer-to-peer network has extended
the guarantees of free software to the platform itself. Users can come
together in the network knowing that they have meaningful control over
Peer-to-peer networks also push down the cost of forking, ensuring
that the free software guarantee has teeth. Unlike services that
depend on large clusters of servers, peer-to-peer networks have
operating costs that are zero or near-zero, so forking a platform
becomes much easier. If you had the source code to Facebook, but it
required you to spend millions each day and assemble a massive team of
specialists to keep it online, the code itself would not be very
useful, and its availability would not provide a meaningful guarantee
to users. However, because peer-to-peer networks emerge like hives
from the code running on users’ machines, they are much easier
platforms to fork, and the guarantee continues to be meaningful.
Having to not trust anyone else introduces some real limitations for
peer-to-peer networks. In the first era of peer-to-peer applications,
software like Limewire and Bittorrent created massive libraries of
files and delivered them super fast, but you still needed a
conventional website to find what you were looking for, or at least to
filter out the junk. Even something as simple as a reliable system for
ratings and moderation was really hard in a peer-to-peer
Unlike with desktop apps like web browsers or video players, creating
a free software competitor to something like Facebook or Youtube is a
much trickier proposition. These applications have to connect—and
balance the interests of—many different users. If software runs on
each user’s computer, how does code balance their interests in
privacy, safety, control, and freedom?
To build a true online space like Facebook, Twitter or reddit with the
pro-user guarantees of free software, we needed a way to build free
software that everyone can modify, that runs on our own computers, not
the servers of a large business, but that balances everyone’s
interests in a way people can actually trust to work as
That is extremely hard to achieve. It’s a paradox. If everyone runs
the software on their own computers, and it's free software, what
stops malicious users from modifying the software to do something
This paradox was the subject of a lot of research through the 90s and
early 2000s. But researchers never really got it working. Sure, there
were “federated” protocols like email or XMPP, but they depended on
servers outside the user’s control, and these servers were often
controlled by a large company, like Google, or if they were
independently run, couldn’t be credibly considered more secure than
the centralized servers of a large corporation with a massive security
Then, in 2008, something special happened. Someone, it seemed, had
come out of the woodwork with an answer to the paradox, and the answer
came not just as an academic paper, but as a working app you could
actually use. The “person” was Satoshi Nakamoto, though that's
definitely not his real name, and “he” might not actually have ever
existed. The project was called Bitcoin.
You've probably heard of Bitcoin, and you probably have tons of ideas
about it. Like any popular phenomenon, Bitcoin has been politicized
and its reputation precedes it. Maybe you got rich off Bitcoin. Maybe
you lost half your life savings to it. Maybe it's the answer to the
tyranny of big banks. Maybe it's a ponzi scheme or a “late-capitalism”
acid trip from Burning Man.
Bitcoin’s reputation matters much less than this fact: it was the
first to crack the paradox. Bitcoin was free software, and it was a
peer-to-peer application, but it created a single agreed-upon set of
data, known as a blockchain, that everyone could trust was correct.
Bitcoin’s successor Ethereum took the idea even further and created a
general platform for computation, albeit a very slow one—an almost
Blockchains let you fork entire platforms and take the data with you.
You can make a new version of the Bitcoin app that uses data on the
same blockchain but has some new or different functionality. Or you
can fork the blockchain code itself and give birth to a new
blockchain, letting users carry over their accounts. You can even
reference data on one blockchain from another. This isn’t always easy
to do, but it’s possible and often straightforward—certainly much more
straightforward than trying to convince Facebook to let you use their
data to build a Facebook competitor!
Free software gave users meaningful control over code. Peer-to-peer
networks extended this control to the platform level, but with severe
limitations. But Bitcoin and successors like Ethereum blew the doors
off what kinds of applications you could practically build with a
peer-to-peer network, and opened up the possibility for forking entire
platforms while retaining useful data. They let us extend the
guarantee granted by free software even farther.
Bitcoin had a big missing piece: it didn’t address privacy.
Theoretically, anything you did with Bitcoin was visible to everyone
in the world; they just might not know it was you. But to make a
functioning online community with things like direct messages, or an
ecommerce platform where people provide sellers their shipping
address, you need to be able to keep some things private.
Zcash is a Bitcoin successor with an emphasis on privacy. It lets you
send transactions without revealing what they are or who they’re going
to. It also includes a way to attach encrypted messages to
transactions. If you want to build something more like Facebook,
Twitter, or reddit on top of a blockchain, these features make Zcash a
plausible (if clunky) place to start.
Zbay is built on the Zcash network. Where Facebook’s apps connect to
Facebook's servers, Zbay connects to the Zcash network. Where most
emails go through servers controlled by Google or Microsoft, Zbay’s
messages go through the Zcash network. The Zcash network itself is
made up of people running Zcash nodes on computers they control. Users
don’t need to trust other Zcash node operators either, because the
network’s design constrains their behavior.
We chose Zcash as a network for Zbay for a few reasons:
By building on Zcash, we can trust leading privacy-tech pioneers to
protect users’ privacy, keep them secure, and scale to billions of
users, while we focus on building a fun app that’s easy to use and
good for building online community.
In a peer-to-peer network like Bittorrent, Bitcoin, or even Zcash, you
connect to many users you don’t know or trust directly from your own
IP address, revealing it to them.
Knowing your IP address could give other users information about you that you’d rather not share: your employer if you’re accessing the network from work, your school if you’re accessing it from a campus, or a rough guess at your city or town if you’re accessing it from home.
In this way, a peer-to-peer network can be less private than
a centralized platform like Google or Facebook, where the IP address
you connect from may be known to the services themselves, some
intermediaries, and assorted spy agencies, but not in most cases to
the users you’re communicating with.
If we’re building a peer-to-peer network that people are going to use
as an online space, we should offer at least the same level of
protection of IP address information that Facebook and Google offer.
Tor, a technology developed for protecting activists and journalists
from repressive regimes, gives us one way to do that.
Tor isn’t foolproof, its efficacy when used to connect to networks
like Bitcoin or Zcash is still the subject of research, and Tor might
actually make these networks
less secure in some
ways. But it restores the privacy protections for your IP address when
you use a peer-to-peer platform instead of a centralized one, so we
think it’s an important part of the stack, at least until the Zcash
team addresses this privacy problem directly.
The ability to fork a free software project and build in a new direction is a powerful guarantee that over time the software will serve its users, but if a free software project is governed in a way that is responsive to its users’ and developers’ needs, forking might never be necessary. Zbay will strive to find a governance model that can align our interests with users, minimizing the necessity of forking.
Some free software projects are run by a conventional business. Others
are run by foundations like the
Mozilla Foundation, the
nonprofit organization behind the Firefox browser, or the
Tor Project, the nonprofit
organization that makes the privacy and anonymity tool Tor. Others,
including many of the basic building blocks of the Internet itself,
are run through rough consensus of volunteers and paid professionals
spanning dozens of organizations and companies.
There are lots of models that make sense and huge troves of experience
to draw from in deciding how to govern Zbay. Right now, Zbay is still
just an experiment, so settling on a governance model would be putting
the cart before the horse, especially given that—if we failed to find
a good one—forking would always be an option. Nonprofit foundations
are difficult enough to start and maintain that they aren’t the best
default starting point for a small free software project. But we do
have experience starting and operating them (we participated in
and pculture.org) if that seems
like the best path forward.
There are new structures emerging each year. A
is newer kind of entity that combines the structure of a conventional
corporation with the declared public interest mission of a nonprofit.
is a piece of autonomous software that can elect decision-makers,
approve or reject major proposals, or possibly even approve or reject
proposed code changes based on a voting algorithm. Peer-to-peer
networks governed by peer-to-peer networks. Yikes!
Finally, the network that Zbay uses, Zcash, has its own structures for
governance. If you like, you can read more about Zcash’s own
governance structure—the people behind Zcash are putting a ton of thought and work into
Online spaces aren’t just about how they’re built; the culture and
community that develop on them are the final piece that matters more
than anything. With Zbay, we believe that we can stand against
censorship while still building online communities that are safe,
respectful, and accountable to the values of diverse communities.
Zbay will soon include established systems for moderation, where
channel owners can hide posts, ignore problem users, or delegate these
powers to moderators. Channel owners will have the power they need to
create functioning online communities built on respect for clear
principles. Zbay will encourage channel owners to post clear codes of
conduct that moderators will enforce consistently, and we plan to
recommend model codes of conduct.
That said, channel owners have complete freedom to decide the rules
for their channel, and the fact that Zbay is a free software,
peer-to-peer, blockchain-based platform guarantees they always will.
First, the Zcash blockchain is designed for censorship resistance. You
can't simply delete transactions or messages. When channel owners
“hide” a message on Zbay, they are sending a new message which tells
the Zbay app to ignore it. The hidden message is still there, and
users could modify their Zbay app to display it. If the Zbay team
added censorship code, an anti-censorship fork could remove it, and no
human expression would be lost.
Unlike platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and reddit, users won’t be
bombarded by an algorithm serving messages from communities users did
not choose to participate in. Zbay users are not subject to the
content of Zbay channels unwillingly: they must actively join them and
can leave at any time.
The Zbay team believes that it is morally wrong—and harmful to any
conceivable notion of political progress—to censor channel owners. Any
destructive conversation is certain to be outweighed by a larger,
countervailing, constructive response. The response could come in that
conversation itself or in other conversations on Zbay, elsewhere on
the Internet, or years down the road—but it will come: the arc of the
moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Our commitment to
this idea is unshakeable, and thanks to the technology we’re building
on, you don’t even need to take our word for it.
If our goal is to make a patch of online life that’s controlled by the people of the Internet, not by big companies or repressive governments, we can fit these pieces together to achieve that in Zbay.
Zbay exists as free software available under the GNU GPL. Even if the organization and team we’ve created to make Zbay disappears, others will be able to take the code and continue. Any developer in the world can make improvements to Zbay, and if the Zbay team doesn’t accept these improvements, that developer can create their own alternative. This guarantees that the people of the Internet will control Zbay’s underlying code.
Zbay is peer-to-peer, so Zbay as a platform emerges hive-like when many users run the code of the Zbay app. If the code survives, the platform survives as well. If developers with a new and better vision want to fork the code, they can fork the platform as well. Thanks to Zbay being a peer-to-peer network, the control users enjoy over code also gives them meaningful control over the platform.
Because Zbay uses a blockchain, it can do some special things that used to not be possible in peer-to-peer networks, like registering unique usernames or channel names, sending money, and buying or selling things. This also lets Zbay use small fees to increase the cost of being a bad actor—for example by registering millions of fake accounts, sending spam, or scamming other users. Using a blockchain network guarantees that competing projects will be able to take essential data (like channels, users, and their messages) with them when they fork, without needing permission from the team behind Zbay—in stark contrast to centralized services like Facebook, where big companies use control over data to lock users and developers into the network.
Zbay uses the cutting-edge, privacy-focused blockchain Zcash, so it can offer basic privacy protections like end-to-end encryption for direct messages and group chats. It can even protect “metadata,” knowledge of who is speaking with whom. Zbay also uses Tor (optionally right now) to protect users’ IP address from becoming public, restoring a basic privacy protection offered by centralized services. Unlike a centralized service like Facebook, where privacy guarantees are based just on what Facebook says it will do, and potentially undermined by laws that require it to collaborate with governments in secret, the privacy guarantees in Zbay are based in encryption, free software, and peer-to-peer networks which can (someday) be studied by researchers and verified to be secure against all known attacks.
Zbay has a deep trove of free software governance models to choose from, as well as new kinds of entities like the B Corporation or the DApp. The Zcash network on which Zbay is built has a thoughtful and evolving governance model. The low cost of forking a free software, peer-to-peer, blockchain-based platform creates a baseline guarantee that the platform will serve users’ interests. But a good governance model can do even better: it can actively solicit and respond to user and developer feedback and make smart plans for the future.
Like many eager observers of the blockchain / cryptocurrency space, we’ve felt an enormous pent-up desire for products to come along that actually matter to all of us. We saw the first peer-to-peer platforms emerge in the early 2000s. We saw Bitcoin and Ethereum emerge years later. We watched as a breathtaking amount of investment flowed into moonshot-like infrastructure projects to build this new stack for decentralized, peer-to-peer, free software applications.
Still, we’ve felt some pent-up frustration that all this investment and passion has produced so few useful tools for our daily lives. When do us Internet users get fun products that we can download, play with, and use with our friends to build online spaces where people are secure and free?
When we saw the announcement of the encrypted memo field in Zcash, we got excited. For the first time a blockchain stack was natively supporting enough protections for user privacy to build something really useful beyond finance. We thought, “why wait for somebody else to build our dream?” We decided to go for it, and build one of the free software, peer-to-peer dream apps we’d always wished would exist—something out of a Thomas Pynchon novel: a W.A.S.T.E, or a DeepArcher.
We decided to take the best big step we could in the direction of a world where our online life is controlled by the people of the Internet. We built Zbay.
Zbay is a Mac, Windows, and GNU/Linux desktop app that uses encrypted memos sent over the Zcash network to build an experience like Slack, Telegram, or Facebook Marketplace. You can register a username, message other users, join channels (group chats), offer items for sale, and buy things—all over the Zcash network. There’s no central server.
What makes Zcash different from Bitcoin or Ethereum is that it has shielded transactions. Shielded transactions can include tiny encrypted memos, which only the recipient can see. The cost per message is very low: penny can send more than a hundred messages. (So we automatically send every Zbay user a small amount of the Zcash currency, ZEC, to get them started.)
An encrypted memo allows a maximum of just 512 characters, but Zbay squeezes a lot of interesting stuff into it. If you message another user, we send a transaction with a tiny amount of ZEC and an encrypted memo containing the contents of your message and your signature. (Zcash includes no information about the sender of a message, so we have to include your signature so that the recipient will know it's you!)
If you message a group of users, we send the exact same kind of
message to one address, but everyone in the group has the key to read
messages sent to that address. That's what lets you into the group:
knowing the address to send to and having the key to read all the
messages sent there. Zcash has separate keys for viewing and spending,
so just because you can read messages doesn't mean you can spend money
sent to the channel—only the user can do that. Unfortunately, there is
no way to know who has joined the group, or to remove someone from the
group. Access control for channels is very crude for now, but it works
and is a starting point.
Since Zbay can send encrypted messages to other addresses, share access to these addresses, and use the contents of these messages however it likes, it can offer familiar experiences like having a username and being able to message people with usernames, without smart contracts. The data live in the blockchain, but the smarts, for now, live in the Zbay app.
If you register a username, we send a message to an address that
everyone has the viewing key for. The message says "I hereby
register the username @alice, this is my address, and this is my
public key." And it's sent to a special address that's hardcoded into
the Zbay app. (Soon you will be able to register multiple usernames
and switch between them, but right now you can only have one.)
We do the same thing when you make a channel public. ("I hereby
register the channel #bears, this is its address, and this is its
viewing key.") The Zbay app can see all the channel registration
messages sent to this address and give users a nice searchable list,
or make the channel #bears a clickable link if someone mentions it in
Anyone can send a message to any address they know about, but Zbay can
decide which messages it displays and which it ignores, and you can
control this. If someone starts spamming you, you can block them and
Zbay will recieve their messages but hide them from you. If spam
becomes a problem we might start charging people more money to create
accounts, or charging them to send a first message to someone else.
(Each user could register the minimum spend to contact them for the
Channel owners can moderate by sending special messages to a channel
that tell the Zbay app to ignore a specific message or a problem user.
Of course, if channel participants don't like this they can always
move to another channel, so channel owners must tread carefully in how
they conduct moderation.
Users can even offer items for sale. An offer is a normal message with
some special information that Zbay parses to show an ad-like blurb in
the channel. Users can message the seller with questions, buy the
product, and even include their shipping information in a convenient
way. All of this is sent directly to the seller in an encrypted
message. Someday, channel owners will be able to set a minimum price
for posting an offer to a channel.
Messages never get deleted, but deletion may be overrated, or at least
much more difficult in practice than it seems. According to the
Snowden leaks, America’s NSA is saving a permanent copy of all
messages that travel across the Internet. Other countries likely are
too. In purely technical terms, when you delete something, whether on
a centralized service like Facebook or even on your own computer, it’s
hard to be sure it was deleted. Some peer-to-peer networks make
deletion of messages the norm, but on a peer-to-peer network any
participant with a modified app—from the NSA to a sleazy data
collection business—can save every message they see, forever. As
Edward Snowden explains in his book
Permanent Record, the best way to keep things private is to encrypt information and
control the keys, not to rely on deletion.
Finally, there's an important caveat when it comes to anonymity: even
though information about the sender of a message is hidden from folks
viewing the blockchain, peers on the Zcash network can see the IP
addresses of other peers as they post transactions. An attacker could
join the network with a lot of peers and then associate transactions
(like messages registering a username) to an IP address. This isn't
especially expensive. So it could be a good idea to use Zbay over a
VPN, Tor, or both if you want increased anonymity, though you should
understand the limits of those approaches and the risks too!
No. Zbay, and Zcash, are experimental technologies. More generally, given the state of computer security, you should avoid using electronic means to communicate anything that could cause unacceptable harm to you if discovered.
Direct messages you send to another user should be as private as any Zcash encrypted memo. You can learn more about Zcash encrypted memos here.
Messages sent to a channel are as private as Zcash encrypted memos and the viewing key to that channel. Like a Bitcoin address or a Google Doc set to “anyone with the link”, the key provides full access. Unlike a Google Doc, messages on a Zcash channel can’t be deleted, so anyone with access, or anyone who controls a medium the key passes through, could potentially access all messages sent to that channel forever.
No. In channels with large numbers of people, it’s likely that one of the participants will eventually leak the key or messages themselves, to some other medium. Even if the key is kept secure, it’s likely that the discovery of bugs or advancements in cryptography (e.g. quantum cryptography) will make all or some Zbay messages public at some point in the future. That said, in an age where intelligence agencies and companies routinely scoop up data and store it forever, this is true for most encrypted communication.
No. If you delete your account, you will lose access to your messages. But your messages will still be accessible to recipients.
If someone has your Zcash address or username, you can receive messages and funds from them without revealing your IP address or identity, if Zcash’s anonymity claims are correct. (Note that your IP address would be visible as a Zcash or perhaps Zbay user, and there may not be many of those.) On the other hand, replying, sending messages, registering an account, or creating a public channel could reveal your IP address to an attacker who was actively monitoring the Zcash network at that moment.
Our hope is that the Zcash team will address sender anonymity in the future, and tools like VPNs or Tor may provide additional anonymity protection in the meantime.
Zbay messages use Zcash shielded transactions, so sender and recipient metadata is encrypted. You can learn more about shielded transactions here.
However, there may be methods to guess who is talking to who (e.g. based on the timing of messages) or through other attacks.
Yes, Zbay includes basic Tor support, which lets you instruct the Zcash node to connect through Tor. However, there are important important warnings about Tor support in Zcash. To use Tor, install Tor Browser, run it, select the “Connect through Tor” option on startup, and make sure the proxy URL is correct.
Yes! You can earn money by sharing Zbay with friends. It works like an affiliate code. You can send them a small amount of money (say, $1 if you like) to encourage them to install Zbay, including your address in the invitation link to receive a small percentage of what they spend, at least until they update their donation settings. (You could even send the link to a large audience, offering a larger sum of money as a prize. The first person to import the link would win the prize, and you would receive a share of whatever funds all users who accepted the invitation spend on Zbay.)
You can earn money by starting a channel. Channel owners receive small amounts of money when messages are sent to a channel, and they can set the minimum spend required for a message to be visible. This can help reduce spam, but it can also earn revenue for the channel, to support the work of moderation, for example.
Finally, you can advertise and sell physical or digital goods on Zbay, too. The market is likely to be very small at first. But if you’d like to pioneer a new kind of platform, try it out. Because Zbay doesn’t have a built-in ratings system (yet) we recommend focusing on building a reputation with a small group of people as a trusted seller and working up from there.
Yes. The channel owner can appoint moderators, and moderators can hide posts, hide all posts by a certain user, ban messages to the channel from unregistered users, and set a minimum spend to message the channel.
No, they can only instruct the Zbay app to hide them from users. Messages cannot be deleted.
Probably not, in the sense of recovering your funds. However, you can post about the scam in Zbay channels and on any relevant subreddits, to warn other potential victims. Channel moderators could potentially block the scam seller, also. We hope to have build a ratings system of some kind.
Not at this time, though you may be able to post very small images or files in the future.
Network - This confirms that you're connected to the Zcash mainnet—where you will send and receive real Zcash—as opposed to the Zcash testnet.
Blocks - Zcash transactions are stored in blocks. Here you see how many blocks Zbay has synced so far, and the total number of blocks available, from Zbay's perspective.
Connections - This is the number of other Zcash nodes you are connected to. Typically you will connect to 8 nodes.
UTXO - This is the number of unspent outputs. We show this number here because running out of UTXOs will temporarily block you from sending messages, even if you have funds. (This should almost never happen, especially after you've been using Zbay for a bit.)
An October 2019 estimate of the Zcash network’s carbon footprint estimated that it used the equivalent of 7.09 American households per year. So at the moment it will not destroy the planet, no!
This footprint could grow in the future if the price of Zcash increases. It could also decrease as the Zcash network becomes more efficient by introducing things like proof of stake, as renewables become cheaper or more prevalent in China (where most cryptocurrency mining happens), as carbon taxes spread in prevalence, or due to other factors.
According to the same estimate above, offsetting the carbon emissions of the Zcash network would cost $5,000/year, which is pretty manageable.
Right now, not that many! The Zcash network can process about 6 “transactions” per second. Zbay can potentially fit a few short messages into a single transaction, so let’s say it can handle 10 messages per second. If Zbay quickly grows in popularity, it could become less reliable or even unusable.
There are many ways Zbay could put less of a burden on the Zcash network. Meanwhile, the Zcash team seems intent on making the Zcash network scale to billions of users, and has a credible path towards doing so. So it could be that, by the time Zbay becomes popular, the Zcash network is no longer a bottleneck.
(TL;DR: Even if Zbay pursues state-of-the-art approaches to protect users’ privacy, which it has a moral obligation to do, that will not stop well-resourced law-enforcement institutions from subverting or working around these protections to enforce the law, which is as it should be. In short, we take the same position that Apple has taken in their design of the iPhone.)
This question is important and deserves a complete answer, so this
section is itself a mini-essay on the state of technology,
democracy, and power.
First, unlike with centralized services, all of the basic data
necessary to hold lawbreaking users and channel owners accountable
will be equally available to everyone on the Internet. If anyone
is considering using Zbay to break the law, this fact should give
them pause. While Zbay seeks to protect the privacy of its users,
the current state of cybersecurity is such that it is always
possible, even against the most advanced privacy and anonymity
tools, to identify and disrupt those seen as bad actors, given
sufficient resources. Unlike with cloud platforms like Facebook,
agencies and researchers will not need special privileges to
access the data they need; it will all be in the open to everyone,
to the extent it is to anyone.
Perhaps the best example of how technology can be as secure and
private as possible while still leaving room for law enforcement
is the iPhone. Apple provides the best encryption they can for
every iPhone, to protect their customers’ photos, messages, and
online accounts if a phone is lost or stolen. When, to investigate
a terrorist attack, the FBI demanded Apple change this code to let
them access a seized iPhone, Apple famously stood firm and
refused. Apple argued that this “back door” would undermine the
privacy and security of all their customers, including
journalists, world leaders, and engineers maintaining critical
infrastructure—which would in turn undermine
everyone’s safety. Soon after, the FBI revealed that it
had contracted a highly specialized service that, despite Apple’s
best efforts, was able to break the security protecting the seized
iPhone. This is hardly an isolated case: time and again, when
products have used encryption to protect privacy, law enforcement
agencies complain loudly about their imminent powerlessness
against scary adversaries, while quietly mustering their abundant
resources to break through technical barriers and bring the most
technically-savvy bad actors to justice.
Zbay will go as far as it can to protect users’ privacy and
anonymity. If governments want to spy on conversations or identify
users they might need to go to great lengths to do so. It might be
hard, and that’s okay: violating peoples’ privacy in a democracy
is supposed to be hard.
Unlike centralized services, the Zbay team will not hold any
useful data or be a gatekeeper to their ability to do this, and no
government will have privileged access to user data on Zbay simply
because they are the home jurisdiction of the company. In a world
where communication happens on peer-to-peer platforms like Zbay,
countries and organizations with advanced offensive hacking and
surveillance capabilities will enjoy an advantage when it comes to
data collection and enforcement against unlawful behavior. However
they will have to choose their targets carefully, since any
methods used to enforce the law could also be used by bad actors
against legitimate users once widely known. (Which means the Zbay
platform or Zcash network will have a basic duty to its users to
fix these privacy problems once they are discovered.)
This pattern places a strong limit on mass surveillance while,
given the ever imperfect state of cybersecurity, providing law
enforcement with ample options for enforcing against antisocial
behavior in important cases.
We believe that law enforcement by public institutions rooted in
democracy—not rules created by private platforms—is the correct
way to hold online communities and their participants accountable
for their behavior. Right now, governments and shareholders are
pressuring large online platforms to arbitrarily create their own
private rules, outside the representation guarantees of democratic
structures. This is wrong: democracies should not abdicate their
role and give unaccountable private power total control over what
people can and cannot say online. Instead, democracies should
create clear, consistent standards that protect free expression
and create public institutions capable of enforcing these
principles directly against their most destructive offenders. Zbay
is completely compatible with this vision.
At the same time, every online platform exists in a global reality
where some governments are sometimes corrupt, unrepresentative,
violent, and repressive. So we must create platforms that give
ordinary people the power to resist their local laws, speak truth
to power, and—even with the best privacy and anonymity tools when
working against well-resourced adversaries like governments—risk
After all, accountability between law and online discussion runs
in two directions: for residents of democracies to hold each other
accountable, they need to be able to enforce the law—but for
residents of non-democracies to hold each other accountable, they
need to somehow hold their authoritarian governments accountable,
which means being able to break the law. One can say this isn’t
the way things should be, but it is the way things are now: much
of the world is not governed by democracy. This stark fact means
that everyone who cares about democracy must agree governments
need strong checks—as strong as we can make them—on their power to
control what people do online.
We believe that all of us—especially those of us who enjoy the
benefits of democracy—owe residents of repressive countries the
best protections for privacy we can practically muster, so that in
pivotal moments they can gather in courage and make their voices
This belief doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It emerges from a
centuries-old discussion on the value of freedom of expression,
and is surrounded right now by an ever-accelerating debate pushed
forward by a dizzying barrage of terrifying news and political
events. We recognize that not all the answers will be visible
right now, but we hope that by launching Zbay into the world, we
can dig deeper down, past the first wave of superficial responses,
down to some thoughtful and robust answer that can last. We
welcome and treasure the conversation.