Alex Gladstein: Blockchain for Social Change

Blockchain is often associated with security and control over data, but its role in granting freedom is also a major pillar of its design. By providing a decentralized infrastructure and the option to choose between public and private models, blockchain allows users to tailor their experience and pursue the projects they want. These features represent freedom for developers and enterprises, but what about freedom on a societal level? Alex Gladstein, Chief Strategy Officer for the Human Rights Foundation, seeks to answer this question as he explores the intersection of blockchain and social progress.

Gladstein has worked with the Human Rights Foundation since 2007, connecting activists to policy, tech, and business leaders in an effort to challenge authoritarianism. Over the course of his involvement, he has helped oversee the Oslo Freedom Forum, which helps protect and empower dissidents and at-risk journalists. In recent years, Gladstein has has reached out to blockchain leaders and made them a part of the forum’s efforts.

We have had a strong focus on information security and digital hygiene, as well as on challenging censorship and surveillance. I became fascinated with the potential of bitcoin and other decentralized blockchains with regard to the decentralization of money and data and ability to be censorship-resistant.

-Alex Gladstein

Though blockchain represents many potential breakthroughs, Gladstein also recognizes the risks inherent to this emerging technology. Because of its nascent state, and the lack of information surrounding it, there are a number of services that either falsely claim to be blockchain, or do not deliver on all of its features. Gladstein specifically pointed to platforms that are not decentralized and try to control their transactions or users.

I see a lot of platforms calling themselves decentralized when in fact they retain the right to control or censor or edit transactions. If you are trying to use blockchain to improve society in some way, I have to assume you want decentralization and censorship-resistance.

Gladstein’s presentation, Why Bitcoin Matters for Freedom, will explore blockchain’s disruptive potential and the challenges it must overcome to effect positive change.