The deplatforming of out-spoken users on social media, the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and Robinhood delisting of GameStop demonstrate the incredible power a few technology companies have over the modern Internet.
The modern Internet is known as Web 2.0, a term given by Darcy DiNucci in 1999 and later popularized by Tim O'Reilly and Dale Dougherty in 2004. Web 2.0 brought us the 'Web as Platform', where users access content using Web-based software applications like Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. This is in stark contrast with the first generation of the internet, now called Web 1.0, when most content was text based and published on self-hosted, static websites.
Centralization of the Internet
The evolution to Web 2.0 has made the internet truly interactive, by enabling masses of people to not only be a user of the application but also a participant. With an active role in content creation on social networks, blogs, online communities, and more. But upgrading to Web 2.0 came at a cost, it required us to hand over the power of the internet to a few tech platforms.
Web 2.0's business model relies on user participation to create fresh data that is sold off to third parties for targeted advertising. A recent IBM study found that 81% of internet users say they have become more concerned about how their data is used online. While the internet centralized down to a few apps from companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon, users have watched simultaneously as their data became a commodity while losing ownership of it. And yet most users continue to hand over their data online and impatiently tick consent boxes. Why does this paradox exist?
Firstly, data is intangible. Most data harvesting is invisible to the user's eye- a byproduct of their online activity. It is easy to ignore or forget about. And secondly, users lack effective leverage. Most platforms are positioned with absolute market dominance. Companies like Facebook and Amazon have very little real completion. So, what's to be done about it? Enter Web 3.0.
A Return to the Internet's Roots
Web 3.0 is a brand-new alternative based on one of the hottest keywords of the moment- "blockchain". The rise of technologies such as distributed ledgers and storage on blockchain allows for the creation of transparent and secure environments where data isn't owned but instead shared.
Engineer and World Wide Web inventor, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, had a vision for the original web, where "no permission is needed from a central authority to post anything ... there is no central controlling node, and so no single point of failure ... and no 'kill switch'!" And in many ways, Web 3.0 is a return to the internet's roots. Web 3.0 promises to reincarnate all the applications from the Web 2.0 era but allows them to be decentralized- called DApps.
Decentralization of the Web
DApp is an abbreviation for "decentralized application". They are designed to run natively on a decentralized network with trustless protocols – or a blockchain, in contrast with traditional Web 2.0 apps which run on centralized servers. This means that no single entity has control over the platform. This also offers incredible resiliency as DApps are immune to any single point of failure. This is due to the fundamental nature of decentralization.
Web 3.0's decentralized blockchain protocol is bringing us a fairer internet by giving users "digital agency". True agency implies owning the rights to their personal data, manage access to this data and, potentially, be compensated fairly for such access. In this we can be hopeful that one day, giant, centralized companies won't be the only ones that own and profit from our data.