Sign In

Communications of the ACM

Economic and business dimensions

When Permissioned Blockchains Deliver More Decentralization Than Permissionless

blocks and keyholes, illustration

Credit: Yurchanka Siarhei

Permissionless blockchain systems inspired by Bitcoin and related crypto-ecosystems are frequently promoted as the enablers of an open, distributed, and decentralized ideal. They are hailed as a solution that can "democratize" the economy by creating a technological imperative favoring open, distributed, and decentralized systems, platforms, and markets. We argue that such claims and expectations, while they may be fulfilled under certain circumstances, are frequently exaggerated or even misguided. They illustrate a tendency to equate open access with decentralized control in distributed architectures, an association that while possible is far from guaranteed. When enterprise, social and economic activities are "put on the blockchain" in order to avoid centralized control, permissioned governance may offer a more decentralized and more predictable outcome than open permissionless governance offers in practice.

Back to Top

Access and Control in Distributed Systems

Information systems can be characterized on three key dimensions: architecture, which can be concentrated or distributed,17 access, which can be permissionless or permissioned,1 and control (that is, the locus of decision rights), which can be centralized or decentralized.7 These dimensions are not binary, and the associated labels should be thought as endpoints of a continuum.


No entries found

Log in to Read the Full Article

Sign In

Sign in using your ACM Web Account username and password to access premium content if you are an ACM member, Communications subscriber or Digital Library subscriber.

Need Access?

Please select one of the options below for access to premium content and features.

Create a Web Account

If you are already an ACM member, Communications subscriber, or Digital Library subscriber, please set up a web account to access premium content on this site.

Join the ACM

Become a member to take full advantage of ACM's outstanding computing information resources, networking opportunities, and other benefits.

Subscribe to Communications of the ACM Magazine

Get full access to 50+ years of CACM content and receive the print version of the magazine monthly.

Purchase the Article

Non-members can purchase this article or a copy of the magazine in which it appears.