Peer-to-Peer Communications 101: A Quick Primer

Peer-to-Peer communication can often be a dry subject for the average internet user. However, it is an important concept to understand as it is the average internet user’s personal digital identity that gets regularly misused and sold to the highest bidder. In this article, I hope to make this topic clear and less dry, in hopes to spark the necessary conversation that need to be made.

What is a Peer-to-Peer Communication Network?

When we think about peer-to-peer communication, it may be easier to understand by analyzing the interaction you have with your colleagues or managers at work. When you communicate with them, is it better to submit your concerns or conversation in a crowded room where everyone can hear or passing it along from colleague to colleague in hopes that the message integrity is preserved? No, you would want to pull that individual aside and speak with them in person or within a 1-to-1 private environment. Why is that? The one-to-one privacy and direct contact preserves not only integrity but builds better relationship, trust, and maintains your control of the message.

Likewise, peer-to-peer network ensures privacy, trust, and control over the messages and data that flows from computer to computer within a network.  A peer-to-peer network is an IT infrastructure in which two or more computer systems connect to share resources. In a peer-peer network, a centralized server is not needed.

What kind of network is used now, and how is it different from peer-to-peer communication?

How we connect over the internet now for the typical end-user, a client server-based network, is used. In a client server-based network, your laptop, for example, send a request over the internet to a centralized server to receive your searched information. When the centralized server gathers your requested information, it pushes the information to your laptop. Your laptop, in this scenario, is a client of the centralized server’s data. It can only receive the data. In other words, for a document or digital asset to be shared from your laptop, you must upload it first into the centralized network. As it lives there, any clients who wish to receive that document must make a request to the centralized network.

In a peer-to-peer network, your laptop will receive the software that will be installed, transforming your computer into its own small network. Now, there isn’t a need to connect to a centralized network – you can connect directly and more securely to another network, aka, another personal computer that has done the same. The two machines are now able to send and receive data to one another without the need for a centralized server.

Advantages of P2P

As we use peer-to-peer communication, we can have more control over what data comes in and what data goes out – specifically, our personal data.

Here are some advantages of P2P:

  • It eliminates the need to buy an expensive centralized server
  • All devices connected has the same responsibility – each one manages their own permissions and accesses rather than a network manager
  • It has less network traffic than client-server networks, which eliminates network jams.
  • It allows for a decentralized internet, which is better in aspects of self-sovereign identity for everyone using the network.

Peer-to-Peer Networks and our digital identities

As the conversation surrounding rebuilding a decentralized internet, how our digital identities are handled across networks is evolving every day. To better understand how our digital identities are being treated, we must also understand the concept of self-sovereign identity and how they are connected to our human rights. Self-Sovereign Identity is a concept and digital movement that recognizes an individual’s sole ownership over their digital and offline identities, as well as having control over how their personal data is being shared and used. Self-Sovereign Identity is a concept where people and businesses store and control their data on their own devices, providing this data when someone needs to validate them. Each day we remain part of the centralized networks, our personal data and privacy is jeopardized by tech giants like Facebook and Google, as they monetized our Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and internet behavioral patterns.

Self-Sovereign Identity can be achieved by utilizing blockchain encryption over a peer-to-peer network. Blockchains are distributed ledgers used to assist with authenticating access to the data within the network. User credentials are made tamperproof through cryptography and stored on the distributed ledgers. These ledgers are owned, stored, and accessible to only the user on their device.

With the help of the self-sovereign identity concepts, blockchain encryption, and P2P networks, decentralized internet is a promising possibility in the future. As we approach a new future, where the ordinary people can preserve the integrity of individual privacy and become the sole keepers of personal information, we will permanently dismantle the control of the companies who seek to manipulate and misuse the trust of their users.