A few months ago, Protocol Labs contacted us to shoot a documentary about Berty as part of a series on Web3 builders. We were super honored and proud that they thought of us!
Even if Berty is not based on a blockchain, we feel close and connected to this Web3 ecosystem. We share a lot of essential values such as privacy, data ownership, decentralization (just to name a few). So it was a real pleasure to be part of this film and to take time to think about the messages we wanted to convey. All the Protocol Labs and IPFS teams were great and we thank them a lot! We are super happy with how they captured these moments of daily life in Berty.
(Maria, Zak if you’re reading this, thank you so much for your patience and all the energy you put into it! We are truly grateful).
Before the shooting, Protocol Labs sent us a great questionnaire to write the script for the video. We thought we would share our answers with you here. We hope it can serve as a complementary resource to this video and perhaps add some insight to our approach.
What is the problem Berty is solving?
There is more and more evidence of global mass surveillance and censorship thread over the world. This ultimately leads to an alarming threat to our privacy and freedom for every Earth citizen. Two observations can be made (and need to be solved!):
- Current public awareness of threats to privacy in digital communications is insufficient.
- Fighting censorship and surveillance effectively requires innovative new tools ready for wide adoption.
That’s why Berty was created as a decentralized unmonitorable, untraceable, and uncensorable messaging application. Berty and its protocol are intended for anyone concerned about their freedom. Certain groups of people are at higher risk because of their activity: journalists, military personnel, government officials, activists, corporate members, lawyers, whistleblowers. Berty was designed with them in mind.
What is the impact of your project on the ecosystem/world?
We wish our impact on the world is to offer a free messaging alternative to everyone. The impacts are multiple for each individual both in his personal and professional life or even in his personal opinions. No one will have to worry anymore about his/her communications and will be indirectly participating in creating the largest anonymous communication network in the world.
The right to private digital communication is universal: Our tools are offered freely, with no distinction between individuals, public and private organizations, and populations.
- No one should be silenced because of lack of expertise: Our products must be as easy to use as our competitors’. Berty must be as approachable as any other major mobile messaging app.
- Transparency is a strength that no secretive authority can outpace: Our code is 100% open-source, and anyone with the skills and mindset can follow, test, and contribute to our codebase and advocacy work. The integrity of our product remains safely in the hands of contributors’ and users’ passion for the end goal.
- Securing a fragile app is a non-starter: Extremely adverse use cases are our starting point. Whether threatened by Internet blackouts, autocratic regimes, or civilian street protest suppression, Berty works. Reliably. With or without an internet connection. We spend most of our effort developing resilience and performance so that no voice is lost to censorship.
- There’s no reason to wait for a decentralized future: Central relay points, be they traditional business executives or Big Tech server farms that intercept private conversations, keep power concentrated at the top. The Berty protocol is peer-to-peer, and in our day-to-day operations, our developers are our owners.
- Steal this code: Any organization or individual that wants to support user anonymity can – and should – use our protocol.
- Made in France: Our work increases the dynamism and competitiveness of the French territory in the communications technologies sector, particularly in cryptography, distributed networks, cybersecurity, and emerging protocols
Why was Berty created and how? What is Berty doing that is vital to web3’s overall success?
- Berty Technologies is a French nonprofit and NGO founded in July 2018 by cybersecurity and cryptography engineer Manfred Touron in response to the urgent need for truly secure, readily usable online messaging. Observing the dangers to civilian privacy posed by the use of current messaging applications, Berty was created to provide the resources for software development that could stand up to these threats. In its initial steps to determine where it could make the biggest impact, Berty engineers conducted research and intentional outreach, later emerging as a distinguished player in the ecosystem of the decentralized web movement in particular.
- We make things. We built Berty, a full-featured mobile messaging application, and the freestanding secure messaging technology behind it, Berty Protocol.
- We learn, teach, and advocate. We collaborate with like-minded advocacy and engineering movements to fight back against privacy threats online. Surveillance and personal data collection technologies are constantly evolving, and so must we.
Berty key concepts
The big (and not-as-big) messaging apps on the market use protocols that interface with centralized servers to relay messages to their recipient. No matter how secure these intermediaries are, they’re still a non-negotiable detour that your private message shouldn’t have to make.
Berty Protocol ensures that your messages are:
- Encrypted – properly. They’re beneficiaries of developers who are on the front lines of the cryptology arms race.
- Anonymous, metadata, and all. Your metadata – the when, who, where, what device – is a loophole used by other apps to learn about you without reading your messages. (This is a big deal to us. We wrote a blog post .)
- Delivered directly to their recipient on a distributed, peer-to-peer network. No pit stops at centralized servers. Just you – a “peer” – and the peer(s) you’re talking to.
Regarding privacy: the fact that the user’s identity is only based on a pair of cryptographic keys without requiring any other information (phone number, email, etc…) that these identities are validated directly by the users themselves (by exchanging their public key and then checking the associated fingerprint) and that the messages are exchanged directly between the peers allows that no third party (including Berty) can be aware of the existence of a user and even less of the quantity of the content of the messages he sends. The messages exchanged between two peers using proximity transport (BLE, MultiPeer Connectivity, or Android Nearby), also offer the guarantee that no other peer or network equipment other than their own devices will pass the messages they exchange.
Regarding censorship bypass: it is much more complicated to block the connection to a swarm of IPFS peers than to block access to the central servers of a company. We allow the Berty app to customize the address of Bootstrap nodes (as well as p2p-circuit relays and all the rest of the infrastructure). By doing so, a user in a country where official IPFS and Berty bootstrap nodes are blocked could use a custom unblocked bootstrap node to connect to the swarm. His device could then be used as a bootstrap node by the surrounding peers via mDNS or proximity transport. Talking about proximity transport, people in a context of a protest for example could exchange messages directly without having to go through an internet connection or any network equipment, so it is almost impossible to censor their communications.
In a context without or with a very limited internet connection as you can see on this documentary it would be possible via Berty to imagine that the city / the district which is connected through this giant LAN could exchange messages (using mDNS and proximity transport) simply with their phones which is today impossible for them via a traditional messaging like Signal.
IPFS x Berty
Read our blogpost
- Protocol paper
- General presentation of Berty (French, English subtitles available)
- Berty Protocol & IPFS (French, English subtitles available)
- Blogpost about How Berty Works #1: IPFS
- Blogpost about Gomobile-IPFS
- Blogpost about BLE
- Berty’s Challenges
- Berty’s Features (uniqueness)