One of the biggest misconceptions about the Safe network amongst those interested in bitcoin is in the tendency to assume it’s based on blockchain technology. In fact, the two technologies were developed simultaneously. By the time Satoshi had released the bitcoin whitepaper in 2009, David had already been conceptualizing and iterating on his own ideas for MaidSafe for over 2 years. However, this isn’t to say that the two technologies aren’t related, especially in the understanding of the importance for decentralized consensus. Their basis for sustainable and resilient systems might as well be solving the same problem but it is the method which makes the two protocols very distinct and achieve complimentary solutions.
With all the amazing innovation that blockchain technology brings, it is important to keep in mind the underlying implications of a global, public ledger. At face value, it becomes fairly easy to deduce the inaccuracy of calling the system and actors within it anonymous. A global public ledger is just not the basis for an anonymous protocol even though steps can be made to increase anonymity. In the end, however, these efforts are working around the fact that every transaction is publicly recorded. This same public recording is how bitcoin and other blockchain technologies reach consensus. There is one and only one bitcoin blockchain that all the miners agree to. Transparency is the result of Satoshi’s consensus scheme.
Let’s now dip into the Safe network which has a similar purpose of disintermediation, but does so with privacy and anonymity built from the core. Without getting too deep into the technical details of the Safe network, and as with previous analogies, I invite you to keep in the back of your mind imagery of each vault in the network as a single ant amongst a colony. The Safe network runs on ANT* (Autonomous Network Technology), a system where in addition to a vault’s purpose of storing and computing chunks of data, it also plays a specific managing role in relation to another nearby** vault. Groups of vaults play the same managing role to provide redundancy in the event that another vault goes offline. This group action is what allows for basic consensus without an entire network knowing an event happened. Of course this division of management is just the beginning of keeping such a complex system autonomous, however, it is this mechanism which gives the Safe network its anonymous consensus scheme.
Putting the two technologies side by side again, we can see how they compliment each other as solutions to decentralized consensus. Users of blockchain networks opt into privacy layers for increased anonymity while users on the Safe network will opt into transparency layers for increased accountability. Individuals and small groups may prefer to stay private or anonymous, but when interacting with larger businesses or organizations, accountability becomes increasingly beneficial. Defaulting to anonymity for individuals through the Safe network will increase freedom while the greater requirement for transparency from organizations will be realised via blockchain public ledgers, minimizing corruption. There is certainly a balance between privacy and transparency and with these two technologies available, we may finally be able to achieve real digital freedom as individuals while also giving larger entities efficient tools for providing accountability.
*For a more technical overview of the Safe autonomous network, check out the SystemDocs.
**In the Safe network, we use XOR distance which is an important distinction for privacy and very different from the typical Euclidean definition of distance.