There’s been a steady stream of news about institutional players, big guns like Fidelity, getting into the cryptocurrency space, prompting a stream of handwringing about what this means for a technology that was designed to be decentralized.

But just as “keep Austin weird” became synonymous in the Texas capital city with buying local instead of at the national chains, there are people are working to keep blockchains “local,” as in decentralized.

Loosening the Power of the Purse

Decentralized governance is one of underlying premises of the blockchain space. The emergence of decentralized autonomous organizations and concepts like proof-of-stake have maintained the focus on giving all users a say in the operation of networks.

Now Decred, a governance-focused cryptocurrency, has essentially turned over control of its treasury – the share of the DCR cryptocurrency the blockchain’s founders reserved to support the network – to its users.

“By putting our proposal system into production, I am substantially reducing my own influence within the project,” Decred organizer Jake Yocom-Piatt said in a blog post. “My relinquishing sovereignty over the financial decisions for the project is a notable increase in sovereignty for stakeholders.”

These projects are among those working to keep cryptocurrencies and the blockchain space decentralized.

Launched on Oct. 15, Decred’s Politeia software allows users to vote on how the blockchain’s treasury, currently valued at around $23 million, is used to fund further development of the network. Doing so mirrors the open-source ethos that inspired many blockchain developers, Yocom-Piatt argues.

“Despite the vast majority of cryptocurrency projects being open source, many of them are run like conventional corporate entities, e.g. there is a core developer group that does not have open membership and whatever they say goes,” he writes. “Decred is set up to accommodate multiple groups of developers working simultaneously on various repositories, and we have met with a decent amount of success running more like a typical open-source project than a corporate entity.”

Bringing Mining Into the Light

The process of mining has long been seen as one of the built-in ways to keep blockchains decentralized. The more miners, the more dispersed the mining power and overall control of the network becomes, at least in theory.

But the software that comes built into mining hardware can include hidden backdoors or other unintended, potentially malicious code. For example, last year it was discovered Bitmain’s mining software included a backdoor that allowed the company to shut down individual mining devices. While the company said this was to help individual users recover stolen miners, it ultimately revised its mining software in response to the outcry.

This September, open-source developer Braiins released the eponymous Braiins OS, Linux-based software that can replace the code that ships with mining hardware. As open-source software, users can modify Braiins OS however they want, as well as have unfettered access to the code to verify for themselves there are no backdoors or other surprises.

“We believe in open source,” Braiins’ developers explained. “If you own the hardware, you should be able to have full control of it without worrying about some ‘hidden features.’ This is unfortunately not the case with majority of current mining hardware.”

Going (Way) Off the Grid

One of the promises of the blockchain economy is it offers access and opportunity to anyone in the world with an internet connection, even on a mobile phone. But what if you could make cryptocurrency transactions without an Internet connection or mobile service?

That’s the premise of goTenna Mesh, a $179 hardware dongle that connects with other nearby devices without using an internet or cellular connection, creating a privacy-focused, decentralized mesh network that’s literally off the grid.

When paired with the Samourai cryptocurrency wallet and Txtenna software for Android phones, the goTenna devices allow users to conduct bitcoin (BTC) transactions off the Internet and cellular networks. Beyond being a novel proof of concept, doing so has privacy advantages.

The dongle that ultimately transmits the bitcoin transaction to the internet effectively hides the original IP address and physical location of cryptocurrency transactions from malicious actors or surveillance. It could also be a boon in places where internet service providers are censored or block specific websites or servers.

“Within any local community or region you have to go through localized ISPs [internet service providers] and carriers,” goTenna engineer Richard Myers said during a presentation unveiling Txtenna earlier this month. “These networks are easy to surveil and easy to censor.”

Mark Toner
Mark Toner is a Washington, D.C., writer and editor. He has covered business, technology, media, education, and healthcare for a wide range of trade and industry publications.