The Connected World
It is no doubt that the internet has radically change our lives. It represented an almost 360 shift in the way we communicate information. This gave rise to the information age. A period in human history where data is the biggest and most valuable asset managed by technologies like artificial intelligence, neural networks, algorithms, the internet of things, etc.
We live in a network society, a society that thrives around personal and organizational networks to operate. Social life, business, traveling, education, politics, entertainment, our privacy; all of these aspects have dramatically been affected by technology, positively and negatively and the impact can be measured with the concept of trust.
In our digital world, the parties involved in the exchange of information are fundamentally represented by companies and users. While there are millions of users accessing services throughout the world today, there's basically a few multinational companies managing the servers that provide such services.
The internet has become highly centralized. Amazon, Google, Facebook, Alibaba, Tencent, Microsoft, etc., host the majority of servers we access in our daily basis. We most likely don't complain about this centralized model because it's convenient. If data is stored in a few servers, then it's easy to distribute across users, we achieve high speed connections and ease of use. Not a big deal right? But when we deposit our trust in a handful of companies, we better make sure these companies have our interest as individuals and society as the highest priority. Sadly though, that isn't the case.
There has been numerous cases of data breaches where sensitive data of millions of users has been exposed compromising identity and privacy. Companies have misused the huge amount of data they collect from their users, for profit, political agendas, misinformation and biased content. Users are told the illusion of being in control of their data. Clearly these examples of data abuse show who truly is in control of it.
Every interaction we execute online or offline requires an intermediary. These intermediaries collect and sell large volumes of data to then produce insights that leads to strategies that maximize their profit. Our data is often used to persuade users a certain type of content, product or service that promotes consumerism. Online manipulation exists in today's internet, and is possible because we implicitly and collectively agreed on giving away ownership of our data for practicality, convenience and free-to-use platforms.
There is money to be made finding statistical patterns and exploiting them. Information is power, and politicians. Marketers, analysts, firms know this. Big data analytics and techniques are used to build aggregated single identities with statistical data collected from our digital footprint. The risks of targeted advertising and information technology are of commercial, political and personal significance.
Decentralization As A Solution
To avoid and prevent unhealthy usage of our data a new internet infrastructure is needed, which it will be no easy task. Every component of how we currently interact online needs to be redesigned. We won't find a one size fits all solution for our problems but the recurrent theme will be present in every one of them: decentralization.
Blockchain technology is at the core of most of the promising models that aim to redesign the internet. It allows us to regain full ownership of our data, assets, privacy and identity in a transparent, distributed and efficient way. Smart contracts and consensus algorithms are able to remove unnecessary intermediaries. A collaborative and decentralized community can empower its users in ways current communities can't achieve in traditional platforms.
There's multiple ways blockchain platforms are already reshaping the internet and our online interactions. The most definitive quality of a blockchain in my opinion is the trustless nature of it. We no longer need to trust intermediaries with our data, rather we reach a consensus between all participants in a peer to peer fashion.
Blockchain Use Cases
- Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Zcash helps us redefined monetary value.
- Ecosystem platforms like Ethereum, NEO, EOS, Cardano, Nimiq are helping developers create decentralized applications that cover enterprise solutions, education, government, supply chain, agriculture, healthcare, advertising, social media, entertainment, etc.
- Dfinity, SAFE Network, Blockstack, InterPlanetary File System, Golem, ArpaChain (a hint to the ARPA Net, the first infrastructure of the internet) among others are just a few of those organizations developing alternatives to create a new base layer for the internet to run on top of.
- Sapien, Steem, Hive, Minds, Voice, Publish0x, are challenging social media platforms by creating empowered decentralized communities that are user-centered and value-driven.
- Most of these platforms are also paving the way for a new type of self sovereign identity, but specific solutions are also being built for this specific topic like Civic and Metamask.
- Cloud storage solutions like Filecoin, Siacoin, Storj and Opacity are rivaling existing solutions like Google Drive, Dropbox and OneDrive.
- Status and Sense Chat are two examples of strong competitors to Messenger and Whatsapp, both owned by Facebook.
- Brave, Beaker, BitTube are all betting on creating a new web browser experience as smooth as current solutions like Chrome and Mozilla but with enhanced privacy and identity management as well as a built-in tokenized model.
- Bat, Permission, AdEx, Ubex are all companies aiming to disrupt the advertising industry and fix current issues like fraud, privacy and transparent metrics.
The list of blockchain applications and use cases goes beyond the reach of this post, but the extensive development and interest in the space goes to show you that the technology is preparing to disrupt literally everything as we know it. Thus, this represents the opportunity to grow along the tide of innovation that is currently growing all across the globe. Trust will no longer be deposited blindly in intermediaries. We are in a transitional stage where all of us, the users, are able to support this movement by being more inclusive and participative of these technologies to further their expansion and success. We have in our hands the opportunity to reshape our future and regain our power.