Blockchain and Decentralization will NOT fix the Internet

Stop saying that blockchain and decentralizing everything will fix the Internet. There has been a lot of news around Cambridge Analytica abusing Facebook profile data, and Facebook for mining user data without explicit permission. Yes, I agree that these are very bad things that need to be addressed. And I also agree that while Facebook is at the front-lines of this digital privacy war, we could also blame many other companies like Google, Twitter, Amazon, etc for similar practices. What I don’t agree with, is the naive dream that decentralization is the next step in fixing these issues.

There’s no Money in Web 3.0 and Decentralization

There are many articles claiming Web 3.0 to be the next evolution of the internet.  In the blissful vision of Web 3.0, there will be no single point of control, end users will have complete ownership of their data, high interoperability (applications will be agnostic of the particular service you are using), fewer data breaches and blockchain everywhere.

On paper, this sounds like a nerd’s wet dream. But let’s take a second and really think about this. Why would a company want to move to a system where they don’t have full control? Why would they want their users to be able to use services outside of their own? Sure, if I am Facebook it would be great to have the ability for Messenger users and Whatsapp users to communicate with each other because I own both and therefore I could harvest even more data from both of the services. It wouldn’t make sense for me to want to have Telegram users be able to communicate with my Messenger users because I can’t harvest data from Telegram users (with consent). And my bottom line involves selling data.

I often hear people shouting “But EMAIL! EMAIL” as an example of the high interoperability. Well, let’s not downplay the market share Google and Microsoft have when it comes to the email market. Also the fact that most email will go to another user’s spam folder unless the provider is configured correctly and is reputable. By that regards, Google and Microsoft could (in theory) be the gatekeepers to how email is to be sent and received because they control the numbers.

The problem I am really trying to highlight is that building a decentralized ecosystem that is platform agnostic is against the desires of many companies. Look at Apple, they are known for their “golden wall” of the Apple ecosystem. If they really wanted to, they could be more decentralized and open to multiple outside services, but there is no monetary incentive to do so.

Sorry, but my Grandma doesn’t care about PGP Encryption

I really feel like we are missing the point when we start stalking about blockchain, decentralization, dapps, etc. Yes, this technology is cool, but it’s not what most people care about. Facebook did not become popular because it introduced some crazy new technology to people. It became popular because it was easy enough that you don’t need to have a computer science degree to understand how to use it.

Literally, I look at all of these open source applications that nerds rave about. “Eww…you use [this mainstream product or service]…you should really be using …[insert obscure product or service].”

What people need to understand is that until these tools and services are easy to use and look pretty, they are never going to gain mass appeal. Therefore, we are going to be stuck with the same centralized approach that we have.

Okay Smartass, so what’s the solution?

So you’re probably thinking, wow this guy is a mood killer. No! I do agree that there is an issue that needs to be addressed concerning privacy and data security. However, I think the solution is simple. Force companies to provide clear and concise privacy statements.

Privacy Statements

I am very hesitant to suggest legislation as a solution to any technological problem. However, I do believe that the problems concerning privacy and data ownership could be addressed with things like the GDPR. I am skeptical on how these things will be enforced and whether it would just end up hurting smaller startups. But, I according to Pew Research, many people don’t trust these online companies like Facebook and others simply because they don’t understand their privacy terms. One could optimistically hope that if we made privacy terms to be unambiguous and allowed users to opt-out, then we can tackle this issue from a different perspective.

Now excuse me as I go and update my Twitter with my whereabouts for the entire day and provide hashtags for all my moods.