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How Bitcoin’s Lightning Can Be Used for Private Messaging

Bitcoin’s lightning network might have a use case beyond faster and more scalable payments.

Last week Lightning Labs developer Joost Jager revealed an experimental, new proof of concept: Whatsat, a version of lightning that can be used to send private messages.

Like bitcoin, it’s censorship-resistant. But, unlike encrypted apps that morph messages into unreadable, garbled text to keep messages from prying eyes, there’s no central entity to stop users from employing the network.

Jager told CoinDesk:

“Lightning is a peer to peer network in which anyone can participate. There is no central entity that has the ultimate power to decide on [what] users are allowed to communicate.”

Private messaging is a hot topic in the digital age, as it’s easy for bad actors to intercept messages that aren’t encrypted. Apps such as Signal and Wire give users more privacy, but private messaging is still far from everywhere.

“I like to compare private messaging with talking to someone in person privately. We can do this without asking for permission,” Jager argued. “It is a freedom that is so natural, that we hardly even realize how important it is. As we humans continue to digitize ourselves further every day, I think it makes sense to extend this freedom into the digital domain.”

Whatsat is a passion project for Jager, not something he’s working on for Lightning Labs. The app is at an early stage, not to be used with real bitcoin yet.

Accidental messaging system

Jager said it’s always been possible to add extra data to lightning payments. But a recent change to lightning’s specifications has standardized how this built-in messaging system works, so lightning network software remains compatible.

There are other technologies that can be used to decentralize messaging, Jager said, but he argues there are some advantages built into lightning that other apps don’t have.

“Lightning is not the only way to decent...

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