Software hosting platform Github yesterday took down the APK of a protest organization app utilized by the Tsunami Democràtic—a group advocating Catalonian independence—following a court request.
This marks another time that GitHub—which was acquired by Microsoft in June, 2018—has censored its platform, after it suddenly blocked developers in Iran, Syria and Crimea from using its services. But there’s a wider issue here for the entire cryptocurrency ecosystem. Github is a repository for almost every piece of code in the cryptocurrency sector. And some developers think this is such a worrying problem that it is only a matter of time before the Bitcoin repository will have to be moved.
"It only took a few months for Microsoft to destroy GitHub culture and openness. Such a shame," Andreas Antonopoulos, author of Mastering Bitcoin, tweeted.
Antonopoulos pointed out that the underlying protocol, known as git is decentralized, which means Microsoft can’t stop it with the press of a button. But, what he described as the “collaboration platform” is still on GitHub—the place where everyone discusses what pieces of code should be implemented and requests to add new code are made. And if this were to happen, it would be a nuisance. “Wouldn't be surprised if GitHub de-platformed Bitcoin devs at some point,” he added.
In response, a GitHub spokesperson told Decrypt that compliance with government officials was sometimes mandatory to ensure operational integrity within a given territory. He said, “Although we may not always agree with those laws, we may need to block content if we receive a valid request from a government official, so that our users in that jurisdiction may continue to have access to GitHub to collaborate and build software."
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But this hasn’t come as a surprise to Bitcoin developers. Wladimir van der Laan tweeted back in June, 2018, that the Bitcoin repository should move because of Microsoft’s acquisition. However, he added, “No real hurry, but I expect this is the beginning of a long painful road of [GitHub] toward [obsolescence], possibly ending the same way as codeplex did.” (Codeplex being a code sharing platform that Microsoft shut down in 2017)
But if the Bitcoin repository on GitHub should move, where should it go?
One option is GitHub’s main competitor, GitLab. It’s an open source project and has tools for self-hosting repositories, enabling teams to keep full control over their own projects.
Some cryptocurrencies have already moved over. Last year, Sia cryptocurrency migrated over to GitLab and hasn’t looked back since.
“GitHub has become something of a backbone for open source projects over the past few years. This is ironic, as GitHub itself is closed source and centralized,” David Vorick, CEO of Sia, said, in a blog post at the time. “GitLab on the other hand has aligned themselves much more with the true open source philosophy.”
Alternatively, there is a version of the Bitcoin repository available on Tor, maintained by van der Laan himself. Tor is a network for anonymous communication, accessed via the Tor browser.
Other developers are experimenting with peer-to-peer technology to fill the void beginning to open in the light of Github’s recent moves. Developers have built platforms like Radicle, which offers peer-to-peer code communication but is still in beta mode.
GitHub’s actions serve as a warning to those building decentralized platforms, that they should stay wary, to prevent elements of centralization from seeping through. On Tuesday, the founder and inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners Lee, reminded us that, since it started, the first Internet has been constantly subverted and that it’s time to “fight for the web we want.” The time is now.