Over the past few months, China has been seemingly forthcoming with information regarding the outbreak of the coronavirus-caused illness COVID-19, with the country releasing images of outbreak facilities, the genetic code of the novel virus, and much more. But, not all information regarding the outbreak has been free-flowing.
A recent report featuring an interview with a doctor from novel coronavirus epicenter Wuhan, one Dr. Ai Fen, was wiped off WeChat, while censors have prevented the link and the contents from being shared in private group chats.
And interestingly, blockchain, specifically the Ethereum blockchain, has made itself a home in this debacle.
Ethereum, An Information Smuggling Tool?
Over the past few weeks, there’s been a quiet uprising on the Chinese intranet; there’s been a call for digital free speech, which trended on Weibo last month, in response to China’s censorship of whistleblowers of the virus, which recounted its effects first-hand weeks before “COVID-19” was splattered across the world’s headlines.
One such whistleblower was Dr. Ai Fen, who said in the now-censored interview that she was on the receiving “end of unprecedented and severe rebuke” after a test she did found a SARS-like virus in a Wuhan patient, which we now know was the coronavirus.
According to Sarah Zheng, a Hong Kong reporter at the South China Morning Post, excerpts of the interview aforementioned were published on the Ethereum blockchain “in an apparent pushback against online censorship.” The transactions involving these excerpts were not given.
my WeChat timeline is still going strong with versions of Dr. Ai Fen’s interview, incl this version explaining how it was posted on Ethereum blockchain and another told in QR code excerpts https://t.co/uYFKpCtsgM pic.twitter.com/kP9kf6t5fV
— Sarah Zheng (@_szheng) March 11, 2020
This isn’t the first time Ethereum has been used to transfer information; in 2018, there was this linked Quartz feature on how #MeToo activists moved from WeChat and Weibo to the Ethereum blockchain to get the word out about attack allegations.
As a result of these cases and others like them, Etherscan, a website used to track transactions made on the network (including transaction information), has been blocked by the Chinese government, joining the ranks of Youtube, Facebook, most Western media, and many more websites deemed unsuitable by the censors. Of course, VPNs can be used to bypass these restrictions.
Along with decentralized blockchains, activists have been siphoning pertinent coronavirus information out through QR codes, encoded in sanctioned Chinese social media messages, sharing typo-filled versions of articles to bypass the automatic censors, and other unconventional vehicles.
Decentralized Finance First
While enabling the unfettered transfer of information seems to be amongst a blockchain’s top use case, for Ethereum, its killer use case is seemingly decentralized finance.
Raoul Pal, a former head of hedge fund sales at Goldman Sachs, said in the January edition of his Global Macro Investor report that he is getting “increasingly bullish on Ethereum,” adding that the asset is “silver to Bitcoin’s gold.” His opinion on this was spurred by the growth of DeFi, which he pinned as central to “adoption rates and usage” of the technology.
Pal isn’t alone in touting this sentiment. Speaking with me in an interview late last year, Jon Jordan, Communications Director at DappRadar, explained that if you boil Ethereum down, it’s killer use case is decentralized finance.
With the ecosystem briefly surpassing $1 billion in locked value while accounting for a large portion of Ethereum’s gas budget and transactions (data from Eth Gas Station and DappRadar), it’s easy to see why Jordan and Pal think so.
Unfortunately, DeFi has been under some pressure late, with MakerDAO experiencing a multi-million-dollar shortage of collateral in the system caused by a combination of an oracle failure and a congested blockchain.