No, Web 3.0 Does Not Need To Rely On Blockchain

Author: Ali Ayaz

Introduction

The conversation on reshaping the internet today is over-saturated with hype. That’s a dangerous phenomenon that could very well stifle progress to a new data ownership-oriented internet. A primary source for a lot of this excitement comes from the cryptocurrency sphere. It’s difficult to ignore and it’s only worse because whatever credibility blockchains have is lost in the mire, along with it the serious discussion on what could constitute the next steps of the internet.

Initially, the excitement towards blockchain wasn’t unwarranted; it provided a real value to many, however, the hyper-focus on blockchain technology – primarily financially oriented projects - distracted too many from looking into available and long-standing alternatives. Before discussing  those however, it’s necessary to give a short summary on Web 3.0 and the expectations users have put on it. Following, some arguments on why blockchain is not the only technology that can fulfill those constraints – if at all.

 

What is Web 3.0?

As it stands Web 3.0 is a dream for some and for others a foretold prophecy. There’s something to be said about the inevitability of progress, primarily in the world of technology and a lot of that progress is focused on data ownership. The way things are framed today, it’s painted as if Web 3.0 will be a revolution that requires the ardent participation of every soldier on the battlefield against corrupt big-data companies. Perhaps to some degree it was like that in the earlier days of privacy invasions, however, the ‘revolution’ seems less like a niche movement of loosely connected individuals and more like an economic reality for more companies.

Web 3.0, in its simplest form, is the next stage of the internet where data is exchanged in a more secure way between the user and the service provider. The user has more control over their data and can choose to share it or not share it. When data is shared, it’s done so with the user’s consent and with clear boundaries on how that data can be used. For example, a user may share their location data with a weather app with the understanding that the app will only use that data to provide them with accurate weather information. The user knows that their data is being used and they know how it’s being used. The benefits of Web 3.0 are numerous, but the most important one is that it gives power back to the user. With more control over their data, users can choose which services they want to use and which ones they don’t. They can also choose to stop using a service at any time without the fear of their data being used in ways they didn’t agree to. In a world where data is becoming increasingly valuable, this is a much needed change.

Regulatory bodies today are aware of the invasions on privacy that individuals have endured to use online services and the beginnings of a comprehensive framework of individual privacy is starting to show through different legislations, namely; General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Despite the tension between regulation and innovation, this was a welcome change. Data protection is now part of regulation and that means companies have to take it seriously. Although the job isn’t nearly done, these are promising signs that the next iteration of the internet can be done formally and with clear boundaries between user and service provider. In short, Web 3.0 is no longer a revolution, today it is a matter of conforming to law and a corporate need. Giving users control over their data greatly reduces the responsibility of service providers.

 

Current Alternatives to a Blockchain Dependent Web 3.0

Much of the conversation surrounding Web 3.0 and Data Ownership today revolves around the notion of decentralization. In short, decentralization is the transfer of control and governance of an organization or community to the multiple parties that make up the whole. Actively, this would mean that the user’s bargaining power would be the main force to reckon with. Practically, this would look something like a network which cannot be taken down due to the multiple disconnected actors that independently keep it running. To a large extent, this is exactly what blockchain had promised us to be able to do. The whole idea of cryptocurrencies started as a means to incentivize people to host this decentralized blockchain using their electricity and computational resources to maintain it. Fourteen years later blockchain gained its well earned reputation and entered into the conversation of revamping the internet and along with it came the myriad of projects which promise a reinvention of the internet and the promise of “decentralization”.

Perhaps the first and most pernicious idea to be addressed here is that the internet or the world-wide web is a centralized phenomenon. Currently, the argument is that due to Google, Facebook  and Amazon’s giant cloud infrastructures, which host a lot of enterprise servers, the internet is centralized and can largely be controlled by big tech companies. To begin with, it’s important to point out that the internet is neither centralized nor controlled by Big Data. In fact, the majority of the internet is not hosted using any of those services or companies. However, the prevalence of this attitude does point to something important. Today’s users think that Twitter, Facebook, Gmail and other applications/websites are what makes up the internet and there is nothing further from the truth.

The internet as we know it today is the same internet we’ve always known. A mildly technologically minded teenager can host a website from a raspberry pi running quietly amongst their other devices. Perhaps the only point of ‘centralization’ we can think of is that of the ISP (Internet Service Provider), but even then, there’s no shortage of techniques to bypass their privacy invasions. This at most, would point us to something closer to a distributed web. Blockchain enthusiasts are by no means the first people to worry about privacy, permanence and freedom on the internet. From activists to criminals, the internet has long been a hot-bed for those who seek to escape the prying eyes of others. Accordingly, they have devised multiple solutions to the exact problem that the blockchain should supposedly ‘fix’ today, just without the unnecessary reinvention of the wheel.

For starters, the notion of a decentralized web of networks that can’t be taken down by governments or ISP’s and so forth not only exists, but currently thrives. The Tor network currently hosts upwards of 6,000 relays and upwards of two-million users which maintain multiple enterprise level infrastructures. To a large extent, the Tor Network (visualized here[2016]) is difficult but not impossible to attack and the hosts of these relays tend to work together to keep the network uncompromised. Here we can already see the possibility of escaping the current internet entirely without the need of bringing in new technologies that require new and expensive instruments (GPU’s) to run a simple technology that can be done today on cheap IoT devices. Additionally, if Tor’s reputation for being primarily used by unscrupulous characters dissuades you from its simple and potent technology another alternative, more science oriented, would be the I2P protocol, a peer to peer anonymous network run by its users.

More data-ownership oriented frameworks are being developed to allow for a smoother transition from the current state of data management to the desired Web 3.0 standards. One such framework currently being developed is Solid. Championed by Sir Tim Berners Lee, the original creator of the HTTP protocol, Solid promises a direct integration within the currently existing infrastructure, rather than the contrivances built by loosely unorganized collectives on top of it. Solid’s approach promises a universalized framework that allows for the quick integration of Data Ownership mechanisms into the existing internet infrastructure. This approach provides users with knowledge about the Data they are sharing by tying it to their WebID. This novel approach can be quickly adapted due to its systematized approach that can easily be picked up and integrated into existing applications and platforms.

Other than privacy concerns, often blockchain technology is heralded for its supposed ability to make sure files are not deleted by some central authority. However, this problem has long been tackled by a dedicated section of the internet; pirates. Peer-To-Peer networks have existed since the early 2000’s. File sharing has been a central aspect of the internet for decades now and companies have worked very diligently to stop it. Recently with the rise of WikiLeaks, governments gained an interest in knocking these servers down and to delete their files off the internet. Neither pirates nor leakers have been stopped today. Despite the mechanisms of control that companies try to introduce to the internet, avid users have found their way around them in ways that the current infrastructure allows for, entirely without the need for new technologies.

Conclusion

The talk about a decentralized internet and the dreams that blockchain comes with are entirely independent of the blockchain and in fact, the way it’s spoken about shows a misguided attitude towards the current state of the internet. Although a lot of the criticisms launched against the current providers are valid, the ‘disillusionment’ many users are going through is entirely unwarranted. The internet that many have become familiar with is not even the internet, they’re platforms. Although there is some validity to what blockchain can offer, to look at the internet, one of the most complicated and fulfilling technologies of our era, as the collection of three applications on one’s phone is not a healthy basis for criticism or change. Paired with hype, greed and blind hope, we get blockchain ambitions that could have easily been integrated into our current technologies without the need of replacing the entire infrastructure that took decades to build and maintain. 

 

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