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Why Solana Needs Privacy For Mass Adoption | Elusiv, Light Protocol

By Lightspeed

Published on 2023-11-09

Explore how Elusiv and Light Protocol are revolutionizing privacy on Solana, paving the way for mainstream crypto adoption.

The notes below are AI generated and may not be 100% accurate. Watch the video to be sure!

Privacy Protocols on Solana: The Key to Mass Adoption

In a recent episode of Lightspeed, hosted by Garrett Harper, two leading figures in the Solana privacy space, Jorrit Palfner from Light Protocol and Yannik Schrade from Elusiv, joined to discuss the critical role of privacy in driving mass adoption of cryptocurrencies. This in-depth conversation shed light on the current state of privacy in blockchain technology, the challenges faced by privacy-focused cryptocurrencies, and the innovative solutions being developed on the Solana blockchain.

The Need for Privacy in Cryptocurrency

Privacy is not just a luxury in the world of cryptocurrencies; it's a necessity for widespread adoption. Yannik Schrade eloquently pointed out the stark contrast between traditional financial systems and current public blockchains:

"If I send you money via bank transfer or paper, you will not be able to trace all of my past financial activity, what I spend my money on, what health bills I have to pay, or what kind of political donations I do. If we have the status quo, public blockchains, that would however be the case."

This observation highlights a crucial issue: while blockchain technology offers unprecedented transparency, it also exposes users to potential privacy breaches that could deter mainstream adoption.

Privacy vs. Transparency: A Delicate Balance

The cryptocurrency space has long grappled with the balance between transparency and privacy. Bitcoin, often touted as the gold standard of cryptocurrencies, offers pseudonymity but falls short in providing true privacy. This has led to the development of privacy-focused coins like Zcash and Monero. However, these alternatives have faced their own challenges in gaining widespread adoption.

Jorrit Palfner pointed out an interesting paradox:

"A few weeks ago, I had some Twitter live space discussion about on-prem privacy at Mario Navada, Twitter space and we were a guest going in there expecting some privacy discussion like we're just having but it was really a privacy discussion about the host saying, we don't need privacy, we want transparency because we are some sort of Bitcoin or Jist that think transparency is key."

This divide in the community underscores the complexity of the privacy debate in the crypto space. While some advocate for complete transparency, others recognize the need for privacy as a fundamental right and a prerequisite for certain applications.

The Evolution of Privacy in Cryptocurrency

The journey of privacy in cryptocurrency has been long and complex. Zcash, one of the first blockchains to implement privacy at the base layer, faced significant challenges. Yannik Schrade explained:

"The first implementation, the proofs were very slow, I think it took like a minute to generate like a simple spending proof, something that like we can now do in a second, right, on like a consumer machine."

This technological limitation significantly hampered user experience and adoption. However, the landscape has evolved dramatically since then. The maturation of zero-knowledge proof technology has opened up new possibilities for implementing privacy features without sacrificing performance or user experience.

Zero-Knowledge Proofs: The Backbone of Privacy Protocols

At the heart of modern privacy solutions in blockchain are zero-knowledge proofs (ZKPs). Jorrit Palfner provided a succinct explanation of this complex technology:

"At a high level, you can prove that you know something, right, without actually revealing the input data."

This capability is revolutionary in the context of blockchain technology. It allows users to verify transactions or execute smart contracts without revealing sensitive information. Both Light Protocol and Elusiv leverage ZKPs, specifically zk-SNARKs (Zero-Knowledge Succinct Non-Interactive Argument of Knowledge), which are considered the gold standard in the field.

Elusiv's Approach to Privacy

Elusiv has developed a unique approach to implementing privacy on Solana. Yannik Schrade introduced their concept of "source" (zero knowledge encrypted user safeguarding):

"We call source, zero knowledge encrypted user safeguarding, which is our new decentralized compliance approach to bake compliance into this multi-asset shielded pool, basically, at its core, and have our rule-based compliance in contrast to, let's say, discretionary compliance that would rely on the user to become active."

This approach aims to provide a high level of privacy while also addressing regulatory concerns, a crucial factor for mainstream adoption. Elusiv's solution allows for private access to public applications, effectively adding an "incognito mode" to wallet interactions on the Solana blockchain.

Light Protocol's Vision for Privacy

Light Protocol takes a different approach, focusing on private execution of smart contracts. Jorrit Palfner explained their concept of Private Solana Programs (PSPs):

"We're building a Solana program, which has its logic defined in a zero-knowledge proof circuit. So what it does essentially is it takes the computation set off usually being on chain, right? The Solana consensus makes it trustless that your computation is, yeah, that it's deterministic and trust is the executed on chain. The zero-knowledge proof enables you to execute your computation off-chain."

This approach allows for the development of fully private applications on Solana, opening up possibilities for use cases that require complete confidentiality, such as voting systems or games with hidden information.

The Challenge of Compliance

One of the main hurdles for privacy-focused cryptocurrencies has been regulatory compliance. Both Elusiv and Light Protocol recognize this challenge and are working on solutions that balance privacy with regulatory requirements.

Yannik Schrade emphasized the importance of addressing illicit finance concerns:

"We need to find some way to combat that. And also if we think about some of the initial core principles of blockchain, right, this transparency where we said, okay, finally, we are able to beat the corruption, the traditional finance system has. Basically we can beat the opaqueness. That's great, but also comes with risks involved."

This perspective highlights the need for a nuanced approach to privacy in blockchain, one that preserves the benefits of transparency while protecting individual privacy.

Homomorphic Encryption and Multi-Party Computation

The discussion also touched on advanced cryptographic techniques like homomorphic encryption and multi-party computation (MPC). These technologies promise to enable even more sophisticated privacy features in the future.

Yannik Schrade explained:

"Homomorphic encryption basically means you have your data, you encrypt that. So it's an unencrypted representation. And then you perform arbitrary computations on that data, which again yields some data in this encrypted representation, then the owner of the data could decrypt it. And it would be the same result as if the user just performed those computations on the unencrypted data."

While these technologies are still in their early stages, they hold immense potential for creating truly private and decentralized applications on blockchain platforms.

Why Build on Solana?

Both Elusiv and Light Protocol have chosen to build their privacy solutions on Solana, citing its speed, low transaction costs, and developer-friendly ecosystem. Jorrit Palfner highlighted a key advantage of Solana:

"We don't have to solve for scalability, like people who need to do on a sharing. And I think that really ties into why both of us are at the end of the day also building on Solana. It's this ecosystem that is fast moving, has this openness to new technologies, even at the base layer simply by Solana wanting to be as composable as possible."

This sentiment underscores Solana's potential as a platform for innovative privacy solutions that can scale to meet the demands of mainstream adoption.

The Future of Privacy on Solana

The conversation painted an exciting picture of the future of privacy on Solana. With upcoming improvements like precompiles for efficient zero-knowledge proof verification, the platform is poised to become a leader in privacy-preserving blockchain technology.

Jorrit Palfner shared some exciting news about upcoming improvements:

"We have been building as a Cisco into the Solana runtime. It got merged like pretty much a year ago and it's going to make the verification of zero knowledge proofs a lot cheaper than they are now."

These improvements promise to make privacy features on Solana more efficient and accessible, potentially accelerating adoption.

The Impact on User Experience

A key theme throughout the discussion was the importance of user experience in driving adoption of privacy features. Both Elusiv and Light Protocol are working towards solutions that are seamless and intuitive for users.

Yannik Schrade emphasized this point:

"If something is opt in, most people are not going to use it, right? So I think this is the approach we are going for with light protocol to really have this default privacy default private applications with ZK execution."

This focus on making privacy the default, rather than an optional feature, could be a game-changer in terms of user adoption.

Addressing Regulatory Concerns

Both projects are acutely aware of the regulatory challenges facing privacy-focused cryptocurrencies. Their approaches aim to strike a balance between privacy and compliance, potentially paving the way for wider acceptance of privacy features in blockchain.

Yannik Schrade outlined their vision:

"We need to find some way to combat that. And also if we think about some of the initial core principles of blockchain, right, this transparency where we said, okay, finally, we are able to beat the corruption, the traditional finance system has. Basically we can beat the opaqueness. That's great, but also comes with risks involved."

This balanced approach could be key to gaining regulatory approval and mainstream acceptance.

The Role of Privacy in DeFi and Beyond

The conversation also touched on the importance of privacy in decentralized finance (DeFi) and other blockchain applications. Privacy is not just about concealing transactions; it's about enabling new types of applications that require confidentiality.

Jorrit Palfner gave an example:

"For example, an interesting example, there are certain games, right? For example, games which, which rely on that you, on fog of war, right? That you don't know everything that's going on on the map, which is right now with you, yeah, you need, you need a private state tool for something like this, right?"

This illustrates how privacy features can unlock entirely new categories of blockchain applications, potentially driving further adoption and innovation.

Technical Challenges and Solutions

The podcast delved into some of the technical challenges faced by privacy protocols on Solana. One significant hurdle has been the computational cost of verifying zero-knowledge proofs on-chain.

Jorrit Palfner explained an upcoming solution:

"We have been building as a Cisco into the Solana runtime. It got merged like pretty much a year ago and it's going to make the verification of zero knowledge proofs a lot cheaper than they are now. And also, the Solana is so fast and cheap verification of zero knowledge proofs at this time on mainnet is still very expensive. It will take you tens of transactions to actually get like zero knowledge proof verified."

These improvements promise to make privacy features more efficient and cost-effective on Solana, potentially accelerating their adoption.

The Importance of Composability

A key advantage of building privacy solutions on Solana is the platform's focus on composability. This allows privacy features to be seamlessly integrated with other applications and protocols in the Solana ecosystem.

Yannik Schrade highlighted this point:

"I think that's a very powerful characteristic of the Solana ecosystem I have to say."

This composability could lead to a rich ecosystem of privacy-preserving applications, further driving adoption and innovation.

Privacy as a Fundamental Right

Throughout the discussion, both guests emphasized the importance of privacy as a fundamental right in the digital age. They argued that privacy is not just about hiding information, but about giving users control over their data and financial activities.

Yannik Schrade made a compelling point:

"Privacy is core to a lot of applications, is core to the individual's autonomy."

This perspective frames privacy not as an optional feature, but as a crucial component of a fair and user-centric financial system.

The Path to Mainstream Adoption

The conversation repeatedly returned to the theme of mainstream adoption. Both Elusiv and Light Protocol see their work as crucial steps towards making cryptocurrency accessible and appealing to a wider audience.

Jorrit Palfner stated:

"I very much think that it's feasible. I mean, in the past, if you look at other emerging ecosystems, right, for Solana itself, like how long it takes to attraction, I mean, it's probably in the number of years, right, so you've got really like a really big established ecosystem based on these."

This optimistic outlook suggests that while the road to mainstream adoption may be long, the foundations are being laid now.

The Role of Education

An underlying theme throughout the discussion was the importance of education in driving adoption of privacy features. As these technologies can be complex, helping users understand their importance and how to use them effectively will be crucial.

Yannik Schrade touched on this:

"We need to realize at the end of the day is that the end consumer doesn't care that much about privacy. If we have to tell the end consumer, hey, use our app instead of this app, use this blockchain instead of that blockchain because we offer privacy. I think that's problematic simply because end consumers don't care that much about privacy, that they will go out of their way, choose our VersuX, choose a completely new ecosystem."

This highlights the need for not just technological solutions, but also effective communication and user education.

The Interplay of Privacy and Transparency

One of the most intriguing aspects of the discussion was the exploration of how privacy and transparency can coexist in blockchain systems. While complete transparency has been a hallmark of many blockchain projects, the guests argued that selective privacy is necessary for certain applications and for protecting user rights.

Jorrit Palfner explained:

"We still need to learn, but the tech surface is not like remotely as big as four bridges."

This suggests that privacy features can be implemented in ways that don't compromise the overall transparency and security of the blockchain.

Real-World Applications

The conversation touched on several real-world applications that could benefit from privacy features on Solana. These ranged from financial transactions to gaming and voting systems.

Yannik Schrade gave an example:

"Let's say we are thinking about, yeah, some auctioning system, where we don't want if the auctioning process has ended, some party to manually have to claim something. We want to have some sort of autonomy."

These examples illustrate the wide-ranging potential of privacy features to enable new and improved blockchain applications.

The Future of Blockchain Privacy

As the conversation drew to a close, both guests expressed optimism about the future of privacy in blockchain technology. They see the work being done on Solana as part of a broader movement towards more user-centric and privacy-preserving digital systems.

Jorrit Palfner concluded:

"I'm very excited and optimistic."

This sentiment encapsulates the potential for privacy features to not only improve existing blockchain applications but to enable entirely new categories of decentralized services.

In conclusion, the conversation between Jorrit Palfner from Light Protocol and Yannik Schrade from Elusiv, hosted by Garrett Harper on Lightspeed, provided a comprehensive overview of the state of privacy in blockchain technology, with a focus on innovations happening on the Solana platform. Their insights highlight the crucial role that privacy will play in driving mainstream adoption of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. As these privacy solutions continue to evolve and mature, they promise to unlock new possibilities for decentralized applications while protecting user rights and data. The future of blockchain privacy on Solana looks bright, with the potential to revolutionize how we interact with digital financial systems and beyond.

Facts + Figures

  • Zcash was one of the first blockchains to implement privacy at the base layer, but initial proofs took about a minute to generate.
  • Zero-knowledge proofs, specifically zk-SNARKs, are considered the gold standard for privacy in blockchain technology.
  • Elusiv has developed a concept called "source" (zero knowledge encrypted user safeguarding) for decentralized compliance.
  • Light Protocol is building Private Solana Programs (PSPs) that execute computation off-chain using zero-knowledge proofs.
  • Solana is implementing precompiles that will make verification of zero-knowledge proofs significantly cheaper, potentially reducing costs to less than 200,000 compute units.
  • Homomorphic encryption and multi-party computation (MPC) are advanced cryptographic techniques being explored for future privacy solutions.
  • The Solana ecosystem is described as fast-moving and open to new technologies, making it attractive for privacy protocol development.
  • Privacy features are seen as crucial for enabling new categories of blockchain applications, such as games with "fog of war" mechanics.
  • Both Elusiv and Light Protocol emphasize the importance of making privacy the default rather than an opt-in feature.
  • The speakers predict that mainstream adoption of privacy features in blockchain could take several years, similar to the growth of other emerging ecosystems.

Questions Answered

Why is privacy important for cryptocurrency adoption?

Privacy is crucial for cryptocurrency adoption because it protects users' financial autonomy and personal information. In traditional financial systems, individuals can make transactions without revealing their entire financial history. Blockchain technology, while offering transparency, also exposes users to potential privacy breaches. Privacy features in cryptocurrencies aim to provide the benefits of blockchain while maintaining the confidentiality users expect in financial transactions.

What are zero-knowledge proofs and how do they work in blockchain privacy?

Zero-knowledge proofs (ZKPs) are cryptographic methods that allow one party to prove to another that they know a value, without conveying any information apart from the fact that they know the value. In blockchain privacy, ZKPs enable users to verify transactions or execute smart contracts without revealing sensitive information. This technology forms the backbone of many privacy protocols, allowing for secure and private interactions on public blockchains.

How do Elusiv and Light Protocol differ in their approaches to privacy on Solana?

Elusiv focuses on providing private access to public applications, essentially adding an "incognito mode" to wallet interactions on Solana. They've developed a concept called "source" for decentralized compliance. Light Protocol, on the other hand, concentrates on private execution of smart contracts through Private Solana Programs (PSPs). These PSPs allow for the development of fully private applications on Solana, enabling use cases that require complete confidentiality.

What challenges do privacy-focused cryptocurrencies face in terms of regulation?

Privacy-focused cryptocurrencies often face regulatory challenges due to concerns about illicit financial activities. Regulators worry that complete privacy could enable money laundering or other illegal transactions. Both Elusiv and Light Protocol are working on solutions that balance privacy with regulatory requirements, aiming to provide privacy features while also addressing compliance concerns. This involves developing systems that allow for rule-based compliance and selective disclosure of information when necessary.

How does Solana's architecture benefit the development of privacy protocols?

Solana's architecture provides several advantages for developing privacy protocols. Its high speed and low transaction costs make it feasible to implement complex privacy features without sacrificing performance. The platform's focus on composability allows privacy solutions to be seamlessly integrated with other applications in the ecosystem. Additionally, Solana's openness to implementing new technologies at the base layer, such as precompiles for efficient zero-knowledge proof verification, makes it an attractive platform for innovative privacy solutions.

What role do homomorphic encryption and multi-party computation play in blockchain privacy?

Homomorphic encryption and multi-party computation (MPC) are advanced cryptographic techniques that promise to enable more sophisticated privacy features in blockchain applications. Homomorphic encryption allows computations to be performed on encrypted data without decrypting it, while MPC enables multiple parties to jointly compute a function over their inputs while keeping those inputs private. These technologies could enable new types of private, decentralized applications, such as autonomous systems that can operate on private data without exposing it.

How do privacy protocols plan to address user experience challenges?

Both Elusiv and Light Protocol emphasize the importance of making privacy features seamless and intuitive for users. They aim to implement privacy as a default rather than an opt-in feature, recognizing that most users won't go out of their way to use privacy features if they're not easily accessible. This approach involves developing user interfaces and workflows that integrate privacy seamlessly into existing blockchain interactions, potentially making private transactions as simple as regular ones.

What are some potential real-world applications of privacy features in blockchain?

Privacy features in blockchain can enable a wide range of applications beyond simple financial transactions. Examples include voting systems where individual votes remain confidential, games with hidden information mechanics, auctions where bid amounts are kept private, and business applications where sensitive financial or operational data needs to be kept confidential. These features could also enable more complex financial instruments and decentralized finance (DeFi) applications that require confidentiality.

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