Forget-me-block: Ethereum Calendar

Sep 1, 2020 15:06 · 1049 words · 5 minute read Ethereum blockchain solidity

Notice

This page is still draft right now (as I complete the many tasks I’ve shelved when completing my research), if you are looking for a more finished product, please come back later.

The main thing I need to do is set up eth-cal-auth so that random visitors can demonstrate it; currently if I haven’t personally given you access it is designed to show you an ‘unauthorised’ screen - which isn’t very fun. If you would like access in the meantime please contact me.

Todo list

  • Smart contract: Create / confirm admin role in sol
  • Smart contract: Allow admin role to grant access to roles in sol
  • Client: Ensure admin cannot have other role
  • Client: Add admin class to map (already there but check)
  • Client: Add banner warning for research only, unencrypted and will be deleted
  • ~~Smart contract: Add delete data function owner only
  • ~~Client: Add delete data function
  • Client: Add admin back door to unauthorised page
  • Smart contract: Add admin back door function

Introduction

This post is intended to present a quick synopsis, links to repositories and running instances of deliverables from my recent MSc Thesis: Forget-me-block - Exploring digital preservation strategies using Distributed Ledger Technology in the context of personal information management.

Abstract

Received wisdom portrays digital records as guaranteeing perpetuity; as the New York Times wrote a decade ago: “the web means the end of forgetting”. The reality however is that digital records suffer similar risks of access loss as the analogue versions they replaced - but through the mechanisms of software, hardware and organisational change.

The first two of these mechanisms are straightforward. Software change relates to how data is encoded - for instance later versions of Microsoft Word often cannot access documents written with earlier versions. Likewise hardware formats obsolesce; even popular technologies such as the floppy disk reach a point where accessing data on these formats becomes increasingly difficult.

The third mechanism is however more abstract as it relates to societal structures, and ironically is often generated as a by-product of attempts to escape the first two risks. In our efforts to rid ourselves of hardware and software change these risks are often delegated to specialised external parties. Common use cases are those of conveying information to a future self, e.g. calendars, diaries, tasks, etc. These applications, categorised as Personal Information Management (PIM), negate the frailty of human memory. Frequently these are outsourced at two removes - firstly by the individual to their employer (e.g. using a company system) and then by their employer to an external provider. So enters organisational change risk; by the time the information is required the organisational chain that links user to data may be broken: the employer will have moved to a different provider, the employee will have left the company, the IS provider will be out of business or pivoted to new offerings.

The wholesale outsourcing of these responsibilities, also means we do not own our digital identities. The current technological world sees organisations create our identity for us - whether that is our employer, tech giant or social media empire. As we move between organisations, we also have to relinquish the identities that those organisations created for us, and with it the data that belongs to those identities.

This research examines this idea - and asks whether blockchain might be able to challenge these norms. The form of PIM chosen to implement was a calendar - everyone uses them and they are nice to demonstrate with as you can use them in a web browser or email client (e.g. MS Outlook). In the course of this research a number of software deliverables were created:

  • CalStore. A smart contract which stores calendar events, with each address that calling the contract being allocated their own calendar. On request it returns a calendar of events for the calling address using either the iCal format (see RFC 5545) or JSON.
  • CalAuth. This smart contract is meant to represent an organisation (e.g. Blankshire General Hospital) who maintains a group calendar on CalStore. CalAuth lets the contract owner authenticate which accounts are allowed to read and write to the group’s calendar on CalStore. All the functions which relate to creating and reading events have the same arguments and returns as CalStore: when an Externally Owned Account calls CalAuth - assuming they are not the admin and have the required access) then CalAuth essentially acts as an interface or relay to CalStore. This is illustrated at the Architecture section below.
  • Eth-cal-open. A web calendar and API (generating an iCal feed to be used within a calendar client such as MS Outlook), this is a front end to CalStore.
  • Eth-cal-auth. This view depends on your account’s level of access. The contract owner will see an administrator’s dashboard (where they can authenticate others), an authenticated user will see a web calendar featuring the group calendar (and API link) and an unauthenticated user will be denied access.

The artefacts above seek to demonstrate that there may be alternatives to the current norm - alternatives that give ownership of digital identities back to the individual. Within the artefacts once you have been granted access to an organisation’s data within a certain date range – unless the organisation specifically forbids you – then you will continue to have access to that data regardless of your association with that organisation. Indeed the organisation could cease to exist, yet your access to that data, would live on unaffected. This is a starkly different model to the current norm.

Architecture

The UML use case diagram below illustrates that both Alice and Bob maintain accounts directly on CalStore, they also both have access (though at different levels) to a group calendar maintained by shef.ac.uk. Bob also has access to a group calendar maintained by bgh.nhs.uk.

Eth-cal: UML Use Case diagram

The following UML sequence diagram shows the processes involved with Bob reading and writing to a CalAuth and CalStore contract.

Eth-cal: UML Sequence diagram

Eth-cal-open

This instance is live on the Ropsten test net and will accept a connection from any account.

Live instance

forget-me-block-eth-cal-open.preciouschicken.com

GitHub repo

forget-me-block-eth-cal-open

Screenshot - Calendar

Eth-cal-open

Eth-cal-auth

This instance is live on the Ropsten test net and the view will differ depending on whether you have administrator, read-write, read-only or nil access.

Live instance

forget-me-block-eth-cal-auth.preciouschicken.com

GitHub repo

forget-me-block-eth-cal-auth

Screenshot - Admin dashboard

Eth-cal-auth: Dashboard

Screenshot - Calendar

Eth-cal-auth: Calendar

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