In briefAleo uses zero-knowledge proofs and blockchain to offer privacy tools for the web The startup just raised $28 million from a16z, Coinbase Ventures and others
Howard Wu thinks privacy on the web is broken—and is trying a novel approach to fix that. Wu’s startup, Aleo, is building tools to let web developers use a technology called zero knowledge proofs, along with blockchain, in order to let consumers use the internet without disclosing personal data.
Zero knowledge proofs (ZKP) are a form of cryptography that allows someone to show that something is true without revealing the underlying data on which this is the case. For instance, a zero knowledge proof could allow me to prove I’m over 21 without revealing my exact age, birthdate or where I live.
ZKP proofs have existed for years but, until recently, been confined to an obscure corner of mathematics and computer science. The rise of blockchain technology, however, has helped nudge them towards the mainstream—most notably through a crypto project called Zcash, a so-called privacy coin that lets people make secure transactions while revealing almost no personal details.
Wu was among the team of scholars and researchers who helped launch Zcash and, with Aleo, is hoping to expand the use of ZKPs well beyond cryptocurrency. And on Tuesday, his company got a vote of confidence when the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz disclosed it led a $28 million funding round the company alongside Coinbase Ventures and other crypto investors.
In an interview with Decrypt, Wu explained that Aleo has built a Java-like programming language that allows developers to integrate ZKPs into all sorts of web applications. In practice, this means that internet users may do things like visit a websites or log-in to an application without leaving a trail of personal data such as their IP address or browsing history.
At the same time, Aleo has also built a decentralized blockchain that will store the ZKPs, allowing users to rapidly interact with websites in a privacy-first manner. According to Aleo’s COO, Alex Pruden, the company’s platform is not only a bridge to a decentralized Web 3 but also integrates seamlessly with the web of today.
Wu and Pruden say Aleo’s tools already work with popular browsers like Chrome and Safari, and that Aleo’s blockchain is able to process transactions much faster than Ethereum because its tools don’t rely on a “time-sharing” arrangement in which everyone is competing to get their transactions confirmed. Still, they acknowledge that integrating ZKPs makes browsing noticeably slower than regular web browsing—but say these delays will improve as computer makers build new hardware to support the ZKP process.
To this end, Aleo will use part of the new funding it raised to issue grants and support developer communities in the hopes that ZKP tools become more mainstream.
Other investors in Aleo include Galaxy Digital, Polychain and the Ethereal Fund.