From Snowden’s revelations of global intelligence surveillance to Cambridge Analytica’s deceitful use of Facebook data in the last U.S. presidential election, it has become increasingly clear that trusting our data with large organisations is dangerous.
Many people don’t realise that the internet was never meant to be controlled by a few central authorities managing the traffic and data. Tim Berners-Lee and Web 1.0’s original architects imagined a distributed system of computers communicating with each other directly, with each user owning a bit of responsibility for maintaining their contribution to the network.
Today’s Web 2.0 has cast off these original ideals and relies on large corporations to store and distribute information. Over time, these giants have amassed huge stores of data on each and every one of us, down to the individual level. This is information that can predict our probability to purchase an item or take an action – like voting for one political candidate over another. But this data also suggests ways we can be manipulated to take actions that might go against our better judgement. These concentrated forces have turned the user into the product to drive revenue by either selling our data or offering advertising that is micro-targeted to influence our thoughts and decisions.
A new wave of networking technologies, also known as Web 3.0, promises to return the internet to the hands of users. This movement utilises advances in peer-to-peer (p2p) technology like blockchains to build services that protect users over profits. Its decentralised, peer-to-peer nature provides a hard technological cap to the possible accumulation of power and data in the hands of monopolists.