Decentralising the Web: The Time is Now
Last week, Frances Haugen revealed what most of us already knew; recommendation algorithms are toxic and those employed by Facebook in particular. As usual, Zuckerberg shrugged and dismissed the claims as nonsense, and so he continues to rule over Facebook as a ruthless dictator with no respect for the people he is supposed to look after.
In that same week, the streaming platform Twitch had to admit it had been hacked. Not a simple data breach, but the one that could bankrupt a company; a hacker revealed that it had stolen Twitch’s source code, including its creator earnings, which happen to be not so creator-friendly as people might have thought; only 5% of users have made more than $1000 this year.
Earlier this week, Clearview AI, the one that sells its software to police departments worldwide to enable advanced facial recognition, claims it has now scrapped 10 billion social media selfies for mass surveillance. At the start of the pandemic, this number stood ‘only’ at 3 billion. Clearly, the company has no intention to stop its practices. Fortunately, last week, the European Parliament called for a ban on the use of facial recognition within the Union. There is no room for such a company in the EU.
What do these three stories have in common? They show that the direction the web has taken in the past decade is the wrong direction. The centralisation of the web has resulted in monopolies that are so powerful that they can do whatever they want, often without considering the user. To Facebook, you are not the most important stakeholder they should take care of, protect and treat well. No, to Facebook, you are an infinite data source that it can parasitise to increase its share price.
Fortunately, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We have started decentralising the web, slowly taking back the power from the Big Tech to the community. Obviously, this process is fiercely resisted by the incumbents, whether China banning all crypto trading or the Big Tech eating up all the promising startups to avoid any competition. However, as we will see in the coming decade, the power of decentralisation cannot be stopped. Just as hackers have not yet been able to hack the Bitcoin blockchain because it runs on millions of computers, Big Tech will not be able to resist the urge to decentralise the web.
At the heart of all this lies the blockchain. The distributed ledger technology was first released in 2008 by Satoshi Nakamoto. Since then, the decentralised ecosystem has been developing rapidly. However, to reach web 3.0, the next decentralised version of the web, a lot of technology has to be developed, ranging from infrastructure layers to build applications, consensus mechanisms to validate transactions, distributed computing and storage and self-sovereign identities. And this takes hard work, energy, dedication, and money to crack some of the most complex challenges of going from a centralised web to a decentralised one.
Web 3.0, however, will enable us to create a new social contract around data. One where we can move away from state and corporate surveillance and move towards empowered citizens who have complete control over their own data, without the risks of the data falling into the wrong hands. Blockchain will truly change how we deal with data.
Blockchain technologies are foundational in achieving this, together with educating organisations and decision-makers that a new decentralised governance model offers tremendous benefits. Over the years, I have written dozens of articles on the potential of blockchain, as well as two books and a PhD dissertation. I have also had the chance to contribute to the Blockchain Research Institute, founded by Don Tapscott, by writing a whitepaper on the convergence of blockchain and big data analytics. It is great to see that this contribution has now been turned into another book, together with the insights of seven other experts in the field.
The book “Platform Revolution: Blockchain Technology as the Operating System of the Digital Age” is now available for pre-order on Amazon.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay