Reclaim your self-sovereignty and privacy

Benefits of running your own node - 3/4

Nodes are the foundation of the Web3 economy. However, running nodes still seem like a distant notion users today.

Welcome to part 3 of a 4-part series on the real and tangible benefits of running your own node. Click on the linked titles if you missed the previous issues!

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What is it?

The idea of self-sovereignty and privacy is rooted in freedom. Freedom from trust assumptions and censorship.

It means individuals have sole ownership and control over their accounts (e.g. assets & access to services) and data. They are able to choose to whom and for what purpose they give permissions to their accounts - i.e. their assets and data. No one should be able to confiscate or misuse your assets and data without your explicit permission. 

These properties should be freely portable and cannot be easily censored, allowing individuals to “go anywhere” they want to.

Why does this matter?

Because trust assumptions are dangerous.

Now, of course, there are many constraints to solving this in reality. For one, this is still a high-friction process today. In most use cases, it makes sense to opt for convenience. But choosing this trade-off knowingly differs from assuming the “convenient” methods have the best of both worlds (ie. trust assumptions).

When you know what you are getting into, you know what to look out for and you can design a process to monitor changes to your risk exposure. Trust assumptions on the other hand, often lead to catastrophic losses because you are blind-sided when this trust is betrayed (e.g. FTX, Celcius, and even the recent banking sector meltdown).

Before the dawn of Web3, we had little choice but to trust centralised entities to deliver on their promises.

In today’s world, however, we have the option to verify the prevailing states of our accounts and any subsequent changes for ourselves if we need to.

Because censorship is oppression.

We’ve all seen this movie. Having your data used against you to shape how you think. Transactions being denied because it does not conform to arbitrary rules that can change anytime. The banning of useful infrastructure or services because it threatens the status quo.

It is easy to think that censorship does not affect you as long as you are a law-abiding citizen. But you are only a law-abiding citizen today (Fight me).

Because what happens when the rules change? Now you are on the other side. Your assets are frozen even if they are still yours (which is a form of censorship) and you are cut off from basic financial services.

How does running my own node help me achieve this?

To clarify, running a node is not a panacea to the problems arising from trust assumptions and censorship. It is, however, a powerful tool to improve your position.

Before we dive in, let’s first do a recap on what blockchain nodes do:

Blockchain nodes process transactions securely without involving any centralised entities.

i.e. you can send and verify transactions yourself without needing to trust any 3rd parties.

With that out of the way, let's now review our two objectives - freedom from trust assumptions and censorship; and see how running our own node supports each.

1) Removing trust assumptions

Being able to verify transactions yourself gives you the option to be “hyper-secure” for the times that matter - e.g. by verifying the state of the blockchain before making a large transaction. More specifically, you can ensure you are interacting with the right smart contract address or verify the on-chain metrics of a project before making a large investment.

“But I’m already using Etherscan to do this”

Kudos to the Etherscan team for building an awesome product and putting Malaysia on the Web3 map but we would still be relying on a 3rd party to verify the true state of the blockchain by using this method.

But once again, if we know the trade-offs, we can enter with our eyes open and implement measures to mitigate these known risks.

2) Preventing censorship 

Running a node gives you a personal access point into the world of Web3. This means you cannot be censored because of your location, use case, or other discriminative profiling.

Recall from my previous issue that you can configure the RPC endpoint of your wallet (eg. Metamask) to connect to your own node to beat the queue for claiming token airdrops.

This action also prevents censorship as (i) you won’t have to rely on an external service (eg. Infura, Alchemy) to process your transactions for you and (ii) your data cannot be collected and used against you without your permission.

Closing thoughts

Trust assumptions and censorship are messy problems that cannot be easily unentangled. The industry is making progress every day to solve these problems from the tech angle (eg. Zero-knowledge Proofs). However, we as users need to first care about our self-sovereignty and privacy, and spare the effort to pick up the necessary skills to improve our own positions.

Reclaim your self-sovereignty and privacy,

- Sam