Google's Eric Schmidt, recently made a rather presumptuous prediction that the current internet will soon be divided into two entities led by competing countries — the United States of America and the People's Republic of China. His prediction, however, does not stop at two internets. As economist Tyler Cowen implied, what is to stop every country across the globe from having their own version of the internet? In the next 10 years, what are the chances that Russia and North Korea decide to follow along the trend of a country specific internet? This forecast, though not entirely incorrect, really begs the question: why are we still so focused on the internet as is? When will the public debate shift to a modern vision of the internet?
It is time the world embraced an alternate solution to the ever-growing ills of the internet — a decentralized web built with blockchain technology that truly allows us to own our personal data, enables the first global data economy, prevents third party interference, removes central points of failure, and allows everyone in the world the ability to access one internet without concern of government controlled information.
Not only do we continually suffer from an abuse of data-control from tech giants — see the Equifax hack, the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, or the Facebook hack from a few weeks ago (which affected 50 million users) — but individuals across the world have their online activity censored by government entities. Cambodia, Turkey, China, and America all share one thing in common; each nation state (and many more) has been accused of censoring their citizens thoughts, opinions, and access to the "free internet".
Ahead of the general election in Cambodia this July, the country created a new authority to control all dissemination of information that could be deemed as a threat to the defense and/or security of the nation. By requiring all internet service providers (ISPs) to monitor Cambodian citizens internet usage, the group has the power — without judicial review — to block any information that is considered to threaten"relations with other countries, the economy, or public order" or "discriminates against the country's customs and traditions."
What does this mean? The government can block individuals from free speech, and the ability to read what they want. China, another example, has been accused of serious censorship,
including such trivial restrictions like preventing their citizens from sharing Winnie the Pooh memes in a reference to President Xi— let alone the social credit system, which creates a "trustworthiness" score for citizens based on their everyday actions (including online activity).
Turkey took matters one step further and blocked their citizens from accessing an entire encrypted email service. In particular, this action affected journalists the most — a demographic the Turkish government frequently targets. Turkish leaders are not the only country abusing their power by limiting a reporters ability to access sources and release information to the public — the United States is frequently accused of the same thing. From the historic release of the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War (which led a legal case between the New York Times and the federal government), to the recent seizure of the records of New York Times reporter, Ali Watkins.
While these issues may seem insignificant, or as if they do not relate to the general public, merely think back to the recent net neutrality debate in the United States, where the government has been accused of further infringing on citizens right to internet privacy by giving too much control to ISPs. In fact, the Foundation for Economic Education, actually released a piece entitled "Net Neutrality Is about Government Control of the Internet".
It should come as no surprise that governing bodies are unfriendly towards decentralized entities —
decentralization as a concept threatens their ability to maintain control in the ways that existed long
before the dawn of the internet: by controlling and filtering access to information. The rise of the internet ushered in globalization, altering the way we communicate, transact, and think drastically — but it was not long before third parties found ways to manipulate its infrastructure to bend to their own agendas.
However, the pendulum is starting to swing in the opposite direction. The decentralized revolution is coming. Rather than sit idly by as the internet divides, we must create a new infrastructure which scraps the mold and detaches from the existing internet framework. Centralized control of the internet by corporations, governments, and central points of failure in the form of vulnerable central servers, must be redesigned for a 21st century that will see internet usage grow exponentially in both users and devices with the coming internet of things revolution.
We must modernize the way data is stored, owned, exchanged, and monetized. While governments like the United States still appear uncertain on the benefits of technologies like blockchain, others, like the European Union, are beginning to lead on these issues as expressed by the "European Parliament resolution of 3 October 2018 on distributed ledger technologies and blockchains:
building trust with disintermediation."
In this resolution, the EU's opinion of distributed ledger technology was clear: these technologies can help empower citizens to own their own data, democratize data, create transparency and trust, reduce corruption, reduce cyber attacks, and grow the economy.
We are clearly at a crucial juncture when it comes to data ownership and a right to internet privacy.
Regulators do not know how to fix data ownership and privacy rights and — quite frankly — many leaders do not seem to care to correct it. We will continue to see these interferences and issues make headlines, but only when we invest in decentralized technologies can we protect ourselves, our rights, and our data.
Zach Warsavage, is North America Strategist at Elastos