The anonymous publishing, messaging and file sharing network known as Freenet 0.5 is, in my opinion, finally dead.
I first started using Freenet around 2004 a little while before version 0.5 was released. It was a great idea, one that I consider to be very important in today’s world where “Big Brother” is increasingly snooping into every aspect of our lives. A world where privacy is getting harder and harder to achieve and maintain. A world where the anonymity which is an important part of any free society is more and more difficult to achieve.
It was a platform for truly anonymous publishing and blogging that was completely proof against censorship. You could write anything you wanted and as long as you were careful not to expose details that could identify you, it guaranteed bulletproof anonymity that few (if any) other networks could achieve.
When I finally had a computer with enough capability and an internet connection that could handle the load, I started a permanent Freenet node of my own. Except for occasional technical or hardware difficulties that node ran 24/7 for well over six years. I maintained a “Flog” (a Freenet blog) and an index site that used a spider program to search out and maintain a list of links to other Freenet sites.
Then a few years ago the Freenet developers decided that it was time to move from version 0.5 to version 0.7. A lot of people welcomed this change and migrated to the new version right away. A lot of other people had an assortment of reasons not to trust the new version and stayed with 0.5.
For several years the two networks, while not compatible, existed side by side. Many people ran both versions simultaneously, maintaining a presence on both networks.
Sometime around 2010 I began to notice an increasing decline in the number of 0.5 nodes that my node knew about. Identities on the Frost message boards that I had been acquainted with for years began to go silent. Never to be heard from again.
It reached the point where the only message boards I could find with activity on them were the ones related to file transfers, used to request files to be inserted into the network and report successful and unsuccessful downloads.
Around 2010 I began trying to convince people that if this 0.5 network were to survive it would need fresh new content. It would need people to create new Freesites and Flogs and make at least semi-regular updates of those sites.
Eventually I took what I considered a drastic measure. I obtained copies of the Freenet 0.5 and Frost source code and began learning Java in the little bit of spare time I had in an effort to get development restarted. I began work on updating Freenet and even published build 5110, the first new build in over two years. For well over a year I asked Freenet users for any help in this project that they were willing to offer.
In all that time I received all of a mere handful of one time responses. Attempts to follow up on those responses received absolutely zero followup replies.
Fast forward to today. In the last five months my node has NEVER been connected to more than one other at a time and that has always been the same node.
I hung in there hoping even then that things would turn around.
They have not.
Two nodes do not make even a fiftieth of a useful anonymous network. In fact, with only two nodes (at least that I am aware of), anonymity is impossible.
Therefore I have taken it upon myself to declare that based on my observations over the last six months that Freenet 0.5 is dead.
I have shut my node down and will probably not start it back up again.
I know that there will be some who will say that I should just move to the 0.7.x branch of Freenet however at this time I still cannot bring myself to trust it because it’s so-called “darknet” is built on the concept of trusting node operators that you have no real-world reason to trust. You don’t know them, in the overwhelming majority of cases you’ve never even met them or had any kind of online interaction with them before encountering them on the anonymous network.
Freenet 0.5 may have been left behind in terms of technology but I still think that it has one clear advantage over the current version. It does not and never has required you to trust another node operator. In fact it assumes that at any given time there are evil operators attempting to compromise individual users or even the network itself.
In my opinion, an anonymous network cannot rely on a trust based system. Instead it must assume that there are large numbers of operators, either individually or working together, that are trying to compromise the network and it’s users. The “darknet” that Freenet’s developers have created does not do this.
Oh I will probably look over and try out the current official version of Freenet from time to time but I’ve got to say. It just won’t be the same. By making that split and not maintaining network compatibility with the 0.5 branch, the developers divided Freenet and it’s users in a way that caused a lot of hard feelings and even more distrust.
For quite a while the divisiveness I saw between the two different versions was reminiscent of stories I’ve read about the US Civil war. It started in 1861 and now, well over a hundred and fifty years later there are still people who are angry about it and distrustful of the descendents of the other side.
In any event. With the death of Freenet 0.5 anonymity and freedom of speech have been wounded at least a little bit in a time when they are taking enough wounds from big government, big content, big corporations and politicians with their nasty little agendas.
Nice going fellas.