For anyone hoping a decentralised web is in our immediate future — anyone who has, say, recently observed the measurable ways in which big tech oligarchs play an active role in shaping our democracy, perhaps — there’s good news: On Tuesday, privacy-focused browser Brave released an update that makes it the first to feature peer-to-peer protocol for hosting web content.
Known as IPFS, which stands for InterPlanetary File System, the protocol allows users to load content from a decentralised network of distributed nodes rather than a centralised server. It’s new — and much-heralded — technology, and could eventually supplant the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) that dominates our current internet infrastructure.
“We’re thrilled to be the first browser to offer a native IPFS integration with today’s Brave desktop browser release,” said Brian Bondy, CTO and co-founder of Brave. “Integrating the IPFS open-source network is a key milestone in making the Web more transparent, decentralised, and resilient.”
The new protocol promises several inherent advantages over HTTP, with faster web speeds, reduced costs for publishers and a much smaller possibility of government censorship among them.
“Today, Web users across the world are unable to access restricted content, including, for example, parts of Wikipedia in Thailand, over 100,000 blocked websites in Turkey and critical access to COVID-19 information in China,” said IPFS project lead Molly Mackinlay told Engadget. “Now anyone with an internet connection can access this critical information through IPFS on the Brave browser.”
In an email to Vice, IPFS founder Juan Benet said that he finds it concerning that the internet has become as centralised as it has, leaving open the possibility that it could “disappear at any moment, bringing down all the data with them — or at least breaking all the links.”
“Instead,” he continued, “we’re pushing for a fully distributed web, where applications don’t live at centralised servers, but operate all over the network from users’ computers…a web where content can move through any untrusted middlemen without giving up control of the data, or putting it at risk.”
Following the invasion of the Capitol on January 7 by a right-wing mob, a fierce debate has been incited among publishers and platforms about which types of content should be permitted to see the light of day. IPFS would, in part, democratise the internet by wresting control away from the hands of the few — meaning that decisions like those to permanently muzzle Donald Trump on Twitter or yank Parler from its hosting service would be much more difficult to make unilaterally in the future.
Version 1.19 of Brave is available to download beginning today.