Age of Privacy – through Blockchain

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By now, you may have heard of the pronouncements of a few Silicon Valley titans (e.g.) on how they do not want government regulation privacy..is…uh, kind of important? One small problem – their incentives are completely misaligned with those of users. Users want to open their kimono in the least – while advertisers (the real customers of these companies) want….The Full Monty. As I have written before, this is ultimately a problem of business models. It is the fundamental dilemma that the Internet has grappled with for the last 25 years, and why annoying ads, fake news, misinformation, mob mentality have become dominant. Also dominant – the dolla dolla billz top internet companies are making, while not really solving these big problems. As a technologist, let me dare to dream.

In this piece, I will introduce the CUTS framework (Control, Utility, Transparency, Security), which should be the user’s contract with Internet services, with respect to personal data. I will also explain how Blockchain technologies can implement such a framework – and ultimately, a better Internet.

Privacy can be delivered, while creating even better business models.

Control: You have a locked door in your home so you can control who gets in. Imagine if some strangers have a houseparty in there without you knowing. Everyone impacted by Cambridge Analytica who had personal details shared with third parties probably has a similar feeling. Made any mistakes as a teenager? Not proud of pictures uploaded to social media after a night out?

Blockchain-based future: We encrypt high-value personal data and store it on blockchain, where it is available forever under your control (private key). Software agents run on your personal devices and ALL access to your data, without exception, is moderated by them, under policies chosen by you. All access is authenticated – you know who is using what data, why, and can cut off access at any time. This can be fully automated with even current AI capabilities. The Right to be forgotten – is as simple as dumping a private key. No forms to fill out – done.

Utility: We don’t want to be luddites and lock all our personal data into hard drives stored in the basement. Personal data is tremendously useful if traded securely. Imagine getting recommendations on a surgeon based on which other patients similar to you have been successful with them – not based on biased or fraudulent reviews, but from verifiable data. 

Blockchain-based future: Most Blockchains have a native token and a concept of networked value exchange. We can develop market-based mechanisms that incentivize sharing of quality data, price that data in, say, Bitcoin, and reward users who created that data. This upends annoying advertising, and instead creates a more efficient economic system of data exchange. This is our focus at Friday Night Labs.

Transparency: Do you know why you get so much physical junk mail, especially offers? It is because your bank likely sells your information to marketers without you knowing. It’s slipped into legalese, backed by powerful lobbies at government agencies. Wouldnt it be nice to know who is using your information? Is your medical history only getting shared by the hospital you are visiting, or also pharma companies who will now target you with spray-and-pray advertising?

Blockchain-based future: Immutable (append-only) ledgers have pristine records. Transactions are out in the open – sunlight principle. Shady companies will get exposed and will have to be much more accountable for data misuse. No legal battles, it will be plain to see which data was used by who, when, and whether it was unauthorized.

Security: The best security engineers in the industry work for your favorite Internet company. Many of them have been hacked. Repeatedly. Non-tech companies such as Equifax are even more vulnerable. Ever stayed at a Marriott? At this point you have to assume your personal information, social security number, passport, your kids names ARE out there and being traded on the dark web for a few bucks. Is this state of the art security?

Blockchain-based future: Bitcoin is a network that has been in production for 10 years, has market cap > $100B today, used by 40M people. Any self-respecting hacker wants to hack this network, and I am sure many have tried. Yet – despite the tremendous incentive – Bitcoin has never been hacked once (exchanges have been, which is very different). There are Exabytes of new internet data being created every few days for 5B+ people, and we have to build data solutions that can be secured at scale.

How you can help build this future

If you are an engineer, pick any open-source Blockchain project and try to build small use cases on top of it. If you are a designer, think of the tough user interface problems around private key management. If you are a product manager, think about new business models around use cases that have stagnated (e.g. local search) in the industry. If you are a marketer, think about how we can tell the world about this new technology and convey benefits (payments, data ownership, better services). If you are just curious about Blockchain – get a wallet, get some crypto, and learn more about this new technology that’s likely to make waves over the next few years.

Ash Sharma is the founder of Friday Night Labs, a new venture focused on building a P2P economy based on Blockchain technologies. A veteran of internet products, with a strong interest in Data Sovereignty, he blogs about blockchain on ash.money

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