Proponents of Web3 like decentralisation. The concept of blockchain networks being unstoppable, where no individual, company or state can exert significant influence, resonates strongly with many of their users and proponents.
The specific reasons for this can be varied — from the libertarians who believe in a future where central banks cannot inflate away the worth of their finances, to those corporate technologists who are fed up with brittle highly centralised systems that have been the bane of their lives for many years.
The degree of decentralisation itself is a spectrum, with many maximalists of bitcoin considering it the only true decentralised network, but many Ethereans too believe in the importance of true decentralisation. Where the Ethereum network continues to run, and those applications are built on top of it regardless of mandates by government organisations trying to shut down specific applications or users on the network.
In the same vein, as anyone can host a website on the internet, Ethereans believe it is important to have this ability to deploy whatever application or token users see fit.
This philosophy has been challenged these past weeks with the U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioning the Tornado Cash mixing service. I wrote about the fallout
from this, with a number of Web3 companies, including Circle, Coinbase, Infura and Alchemy severing links with this service.
Other than Circle blacklisting USDC on wallets associated with Tornado Cash, the other actions by Web3 companies have affected centralised Web3 services, rather than the core Ethereum network itself. People can still access Tornado Cash should they choose by running their own Ethereum nodes, and accessing the smart contracts directly.
Whilst the OFAC may not like these actions, and it’s certainly a risky action to do if you’re in a jurisdiction where the U.S. Treasury can extend its reach, it stays true to the decentralisation ethos of the Ethereum network, as no one has executive control over the network in order to prevent such activities from taking place.
Ethereum’s upcoming merge has however challenged this true decentralisation narrative, with some interesting questions being postulated by the bitcoin and Web3 community. The reason is that a number of U.S.-based exchanges such as Coinbase and Kraken offer Ethereum staking services to Ether holders.
Once Ethereum’s merge event takes place, transitioning the network to proof of stake, these exchanges will be running staking services on behalf of their customers. This involves running Ethereum nodes that validate the transactions on the network, which could become an area of contention.
The reason is that with the OFAC sanctioning of Tornado Cash, U.S. entities that process crypto transactions have a responsibility to ensure that they’re not being used to facilitate illicit transactions — i.e. related to Tornado Cash.
Whilst Coinbase and Kraken are able to block their users from sending or receiving funds from Tornado Cash in their exchange, the concern is that they would have to censor transactions at the validator layer in order to run their staking services.