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MetaMask: illusion of independence

MetaMask – an Ethereum wallet. A review by a Bitcoin mixer: mixer.money
MetaMask: illusion of independence

  1. Was this really an accident?
  2. The reasons for the blockade
  3. Why MetaMask?
  4. The season of sanctions
  5. Is decentralization merely an illusion?
  6. Later, only Infura was included in the title.

On March 3, Reddit users wrote that MetaMask, a popular Ethereum wallet, had blocked users from Venezuela.

Was this really an accident?

The problem was traced back to Infura, the Ethereum infrastructure provider within ConsenSys. On Thursday, it introduced geoblocks into the algorithm, but the settings were configured too broadly.

They later corrected the errors, but critics had already attacked the company. They said that the blocking brought to light a point of failure and proved that the “uncensorable” Internet is in fact controllable.

The reasons for the blockade

“Infura closely monitors changes to U.S. sanctions programs announced by the Office of Foreign Assets Control and narrowly tailors its internal controls to comply with the law. Currently, those regions are Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Syria, and the Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk regions of Ukraine,” a representative of ConsenSys explained.

Infura is a Ethereum infrastructure provider of ConsenSys. A review by a Bitcoin mixer: mixer.money

Infura has blocked users from these regions because regulators start paying closer attention to the compliance of crypto-related entities with anti-Russian sanctions introduced by the U.S. and other countries. Policymakers and legislators including United States Senator Elizabeth Warren and German Federal Minister of Finance Christian Lindner have expressed concerns as they believe that cryptocurrencies can be used for undermining the impact of sanctions. Crypto industry players including crypto exchanges have agreed to block sanctioned individuals but not entire countries.

Why MetaMask?

MetaMask connects to the Ethereum blockchain via Infura. If users do not change the default endpoints of MetaMask, they will be subject to the geographic restrictions imposed by Infura.

When Infura cast a dragnet that was too wide and blocked users from Venezuela accidentally, some Twitter users claimed that MetaMask had been completely blocked in Venezuela with its rapidly developing crypto industry and a long history of American sanctions.

“In changing some configurations as a result of the new sanctions directives from the United States and other jurisdictions, we mistakenly configured the settings more broadly than they needed to be,” said Infura representatives on Twitter.

Infura apologized to its users for the mistake and replied that its operation had resumed in “inadvertently impacted regions,” without specifying the region. MetaMask copied the apology speech and commented that it accesses the Ethereum blockchain via Infura.

“MetaMask is still a decentralized tool. It’s just their default connections aren’t,” said Kieran Daniels, co-founder and CEO of crypto project SmartDeFi.

MetaMask added that users can configure the endpoints in the application settings and attached a detailed guide.

The season of sanctions

This incident happened amid international discussions on cryptocurrencies and sanctions. It revealed the contradictions related to the operation of seemingly uncensorable services via centralized systems. Infura is a crucial provider of development and infrastructure services to numerous projects based on the Ethereum blockchain. As a U.S.-based company it is also regulated by American federal law. The impact of restrictions imposed by Infura reverbs throughout the society.

“As a centralized entity, funded by investors like JPMorgan, infrastructure providers like Infura are subject to regulatory concerns. This over-reliance on centralized service providers goes against everything that Web 3 stands for and is meant to be – and represents a central point of failure that shouldn’t exist in the first place,” said Josh Neuroth, CEO and co-founder of Ankr, a decentralized cloud-computing service provider.

Ankr is also an American company. Neuroth was asked whether Ankr must also implement sanctions instructions from the Treasury Department and replied positively adding that “the team is working as quickly as possible toward transitioning to a protocol that exists in the network and isn’t run by a company, but a DAO.”

Is decentralization merely an illusion?

The situation did not clear up with continuous updates of MetaMask’s “troubleshooting” section. After the report of CoinDesk, the section was first titled “Why MetaMask and Infura cannot serve certain areas,” which made some commentators assume that MetaMask was enforcing these blocks itself.

Later, only Infura was included in the title.

On Thursday evening, the text on this page was changed to “by default, MetaMask accesses the blockchain via Infura, which is unavailable in certain jurisdictions due to legal compliance.” It also warned users from these regions that they would see an error message when trying to use MetaMask.

Numerous Twitter users claimed that the situation proved that MetaMask was not truly decentralized.

Moreover, Infura and MetaMask have followed the OFAC instructions related to sanctions for quite a while.

Users from North Korea, Iran, Syria and Cuba were blocked a long time ago, before sanctions against certain regions of Ukraine were introduced, but this issue did not attract much attention. However, by now the problem has become apparent and everyone understands that the access of users to their crypto assets can be blocked any time — by chance or by design.


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