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Every interaction we have with a piece of technology has been reduced to a data point. Every desire is a marketing opportunity, every banal conversation offers a wealth of consumer research, and every scrap of digital rights we forfeit along the way could be utilized to further diminish our privacy and lock us into a highly commodified ecosystem.
Yes, it’s possible that “big tech” rules our lives with a silicon fist, and that we have provided our full consent, allowing these means to become standardized business practice. In looking at the verbose legalese of infinite end-user license agreements (EULAs), we can know that we risk trading our privacy for convenience and funding the richest companies in the history of the world to do it.
But how did we get here – where it’s never been more important to reclaim the right to our personal data? How did this become the new normal, and what exactly can we do about it now? Is it possible we can salvage our privacy and our digital freedom by leveraging blockchain technology? Does the advent of cryptocurrencies, smart contracts, decentralized finance (DeFi), and decentralized applications (DApps) eventually lead to the complete decentralization of the data that the oligopoly needs to survive?
Is blockchain the cure for our big-tech sickness?
The consumer becomes the consumed
The internet was supposed to be a democratizing force that enabled anyone to transact, communicate, share, and learn from one another regardless of where they are physically located in the world. Unfortunately, we made a devil’s bargain.
In exchange for the free services provided by big tech – search, email, social, chat, video, entertainment, etc. – we potentially gave up our privacy, accepting the risk of constant surveillance by technology’s big brothers: Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple.
We don’t want to have to search too hard, or remember a host of different passwords, or have to figure out how to get our clock and our calendar synced up. We want to stay in touch with our friends and family, so some of us bend the knee to social networks and eagerly broadcast every single detail of our day because we’ve been tricked into thinking that’s what human interaction amounts to these days.
The data we’re handing over in exchange for these free services can be used in deeply manipulative and exploitative ways that transcend cynical consumerist gain. Social networks are now believed to be used to undermine the integrity of democracies. Using the high-profile Cambridge Analytica scandal as an example, we can see how our data is potentially being used to sow social discord when power players need to influence political narratives and how some of the largest tech giants in the world may be complicit in the process.
Our data has been weaponized. Misinformation, propaganda, and the calculated polarization of civil discourse are potentially so pervasive that they can embolden home-spun terrorism, violence and hate crimes. Many become trapped within insular echo chambers of dopamine loops and pandering opinions that they may never emerge from.
Quick – can you name Facebook’s product? You are the product.
Can you name Facebook’s customers? Advertisers.
A multi-billion-dollar industry has sprung out of nothing in the past decade that makes us its primary profit model. It’s possible that some internet platforms are breaking the law – but our culture sometimes champions corporate servility, and accountability is rare.
So how can we regain control and build a better tomorrow in which security and privacy matter once again?
A better future
It’s time we eliminate the need for middlemen standing between our culture and our data. There are alternatives to these systems that are transparent and that are resistant to control, censorship, manipulation, and corporate greed. We must look to the emergent technologies that provide a universal, decentralized alternative to our tech-reliant lives.
You might forfeit ownership of your data once you tweet – but can you imagine a social network that doesn’t own all your posts and suck the data from them for its collection of advertisers?
With some blockchain-based solutions we don’t have to worry about a centralized authority dictating who can say what. Decentralized apps can allow us to remain as anonymous as we desire and can allow users to control their data, their privacy, and their level of collaboration with the larger network on a case-by-case basis.
Under the hood, DApps can replace the role of large corporations with a new model of consensus. With consensus, a distributed network of users can agree on and update the state of any ledger. Anyone can download, verify and take part in updating the ledger, which opens up a whole new world of user-friendly business models.
Central to blockchain’s value proposition is the idea of trustless collaboration, the ability for businesses and individuals to exchange information and work together without having to establish a formal relationship first. Thanks to blockchain, humans can extend their networks far beyond their immediate domain and collaborate with partners from across the globe, without giving up any sensitive information.
In effect, decentralized applications can be used to realize a specific vision of the internet – an information superhighway with equal rights, opportunity and access for all. When Tim Berners-Lee conceived of the World Wide Web in his office at CERN, perhaps he did not dare to dream that his creation would breed a Goliath that could capture and manipulate our attention the way big tech does today.
Democratizing power on the internet away from its corporate gatekeepers and toward independent communities contains the immense potential to humanize a technology that, at times, seems to have spiraled out of control.
Laurence Newman, co-founder of Coinmama, is a serial entrepreneur and a veteran in the Bitcoin space. After struggling to buy Bitcoin himself, Laurence set out to create a seamless, secure and engaging buying experience for one and all, and hence Coinmama was born. In addition to serving on its board of directors, Laurence heads up marketing and strategic partnerships at Coinmama and is passionate about educating the mass of newcomers about Bitcoin and its potential.
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