2020-01-06

LBRY Is Shady [Net]

(Ironically, this post is an expansion on a comment I left on some Youtube video)

2020 may be the year when Youtube's consistent strategy of self-sabotage is finally starting to catch up with them. People are beginning to become fed up in scale. However, there is a glaring issue with any video platform, but it disproportionately applies to smaller ones: the bandwidth needs of video distribution are ridiculously large, and these platforms mostly cater to people who expect content for "free". So it's no small wonder that Youtube is constantly at war with their creators (event demonetizing terms such as "Linux") because if they don't cater to their base (== mega corporations) they stand no chance of breaking even. Smaller competitors don't just have the social networking effect set up against them, they also have pretty much no hope of making that bandwidth calculation work - unless they also make some pretty rough tradeoffs in the process.

LBRY is a "Youtube alternative" based on blockchain metadata distribution and currency, and it's making a big splash on social media right now.

So here's the problem with LBRY that nobody seems to talk about. Following the advice of many Youtubers raving about it, I signed up. However, right after I sign in, there is a step called "Extra Verification Needed", where - and I'm not kidding - they want your IRL identity, either through your phone, your credit card, or - again sadly not kidding - transmitting a scan of your passport. It's a bit of a sad statement, but I'd even trust Google with my identity over some rando crypto startup. I would like to especially caution against uploading your national ID to random people on the internet, that's just an invitation for identity theft. It's also not clear to me what legitimate purpose LBRY would have possessing my passport. It's absolutely ridiculous.

Update: for science, I tried the "Proof via Text" option thinking that my phone number would be the least damaging info I could give them. Nope, the $$$ing button for that option doesn't even work! Shady shady stuff right here.

Coming back to the original point: every video platform has to make some serious concessions to even exist, both monetariliy and also legally (the latter mostly because of flagrant copyright violations that are bound to happen, but also more generally because governments and big corporations are very much not fond of citizens publishing content willy-nilly - which in most cases is also ethically beneficial, if only incidentally). LBRY not only does stuff personally identifyable data, they also want documents in their possession that could seriously harm me. That's all I need to know at this point.

They have a tag line that goes as follows:

LBRY is a secure, open, and community-run digital marketplace. Enjoy the latest content from your favorite creators—as a user, not a product.

This does not jibe at all with their signup procedure.

I get why content creators are excited about it, considering what they have been through at Youtube in recent years, who can blame them for wanting to get a piece of some hot new crypto pie. I think the concept is worthwhile, even considering the drawbacks I enumerated in my previous article about social net federation. But this is not the decentralized or open alternative it's made out to be.

I'm not sure what the future of video content distribution will be, but we have to make extra sure not to enable another TikTok or Youtube just because they had cool marketing copy.

It's also worth mentioning that curated and openly centralized commercial alternatives are in the wings. Maybe the totality of them could solve our current monopoly issues while at the same time preventing the pitfalls of overly open or dishonest alternatives. I hope this will be the year to watch out for Floatplane as well. But make no mistake: anyone who wants a better future for web services in general has to actually chip in instead of expecting "free" handouts that magically work. Currently, there is nothing more impactful than subscribing to stuff with actual money, be it by supporting creators directly or even by opting in to the premium plan of your preferred content platform(s).

We get the internet we deserve...