Why the Internet has a Problem
A decentralised web was how the web was originally envisioned, but somehow in the past 25 years, it ended up in the hands of a few very powerful companies. As Sir Tim Berners-Lee said during the Decentralised Web Summit in 2016:
“The web was designed to be decentralised so that everybody could participate by having their own domain and having their own webserver and this hasn’t worked out. Instead, we’ve got the situation where individual personal data has been locked up in these silos.”
Over the years, the objective of a distributed network of nodes where everyone would be able to participate for the betterment of humanity has been lost with many centralised companies – such as Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and WeChat – offering centralised services while removing fundamental freedoms such as consumer data ownership rights, privacy and security. Too often, consumers become the victim of malpractices of large organisations, not taking care of the customers’ data, leaving their customers vulnerable.
In addition, non-democratic governments use this centralised web to censor freedom of speech on a daily basis. On a regular basis, countries block important websites such as Wikipedia because there is an article they do not like. Finally, trolls from private organisations or governments try to influence consumer opinion and the flood of fake news that we have seen in recent years only make things worse.
As a result, the internet has a problem
The internet has degraded trust among individuals and organisations. The anonymity of the internet has resulted in all kinds of nasty behaviours, such as mentioned above. However, a fully accountable digital society as is currently being created in China, using the social credit scoring system Sesame Credit, is also not the solution. Their solution to solve problems associated with online anonymity will result in an absence of privacy and complete government surveillance as well as control. As it seems, neither the ‘Western internet’ nor the ‘Chinese internet’ can solve the issues associated with the internet. As a result, we have a trust problem, or as the World Economic Forum puts it:
“Trust is a social, economic and political binding agent. A vast research literature on trust and social capital documents the connections between trust and well-being, collective problem solving, economic development and social cohesion. Trust is the lifeblood of friendship and caregiving. When trust is absent, all kinds of societal woes unfold, including violence, chaos and paralysing risk-aversion.
There is considerable concern that the way people use the internet is degrading trust. The fate of trust and truth is up for grabs. On the one hand, many worry that the fake news ecosystem preys on deep human instincts. Preferences for convenience, comfort, and information that reinforces their views make people vulnerable to the ways new tech tools can identify, target and manipulate them. On the other hand, humans have a decent track record of confronting problems caused by communications revolutions. There are new ways to fight back, at internet speed.”
The problem lies in how the web and the internet were developed. When the internet was created, the original creators did a lot of things really well. They created standards such as TCP/IP, DNS, HTTP, etc. However, unfortunately, they also forgot two important standards: an identity protocol to use your offline identity online and a reputation protocol, to be reputable and accountable online, even when you are anonymous. They forgot this, simply because when the web started, only trusted actors had access to the network.
The identity protocol is called a ‘Self-Sovereign Identity’ and is being developed by several organisations such as Sovrin.org and uPort. The second one, the Reputation Protocol, is something we are working on:
Solving the trust problem using reputation
In the real world, an actor, an individual, organisation or a thing, has multiple identities with different reputations that are persistent and personal. The same applies to the online world, where an actor also has multiple online identities with respective reputations. However, currently these online identities and reputations are not persistent or portable, and an actor can easily fake their identity or reputation as it is not immutable, verifiable and traceable. As a result, in the digital era we live in, it has become increasingly difficult to trust someone, or something, and to be held accountable for one’s actions online. As a famous quote goes; “on the internet, nobody knows you are a dog”.
To restore online trust, we need a system that combines the web’s current anonymity with a reputation system to allow (pseudo)anonymous entities to be reputable and accountable across the internet. While China’s social credit scoring system, Sesame Credit, allows actors to build a reputation and be held accountable, the fact that there is no privacy and it is a centralised system resulting in full government surveillance and control, is incredibly scary.
We believe that we have the solution to this trust problem and we are working on building the missing reputation protocol for the internet, allowing individuals, organisations, governments and things to be held accountable and build a reputation that is personal, private, persistent, portable and protected while remaining anonymous if wanted. We hope to release an alpha version next year.
We are looking for individuals, investors, developers and organisations who can help us achieve our vision and develop the missing link for the internet. If you are interested in more information or can help us in some way, do not hesitate to contact me or leave a comment below. Thanks!
Image: A. and I. Kruk/Shutterstock