The Internet: By the People and For the People
The current state of the internet,Web 2.0, came into being in the early 2000s. This is when companies such as Google and Facebook were formed. Today, almost all of our internet activity is on platforms controlled by these ‘technology giants’. These companies have information regarding each one of its billions of users- including their age, gender, religion, sexuality, location, buying habits, friends, messages and web searches, which in turn can determine their thoughts, behavioural practises, and reveal an enormous amount of personal information about them. The companies sell this information to advertisers, so that they can promote personalised products or content that may appeal to each individual the most. For them, user privacy is merely a product for them to make profit off. A solution to this issue is Web 3.0, or the Decentralised Internet. The concept of this type of the internet, and the ways in which it can act as a possible solution to the problems of the current internet, will be explored by Perspectoverse’s Ishana Kandhari.
The idea of a decentralised web involves the concept of the internet being controlled by its users, rather than large companies. It is constituted by millions of devices, linked together, forming a large network. The internet cannot be controlled or operated by only one person or entity. Web 3.0 functions on blockchain technology, similar to what is used in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.
Blockchain is a distributed database. This technology stores data in the form of blocks, which are interconnected, using cryptography. Each block has a set storage capacity. When its limit has been reached, a new block is created to preserve new data. These blocks are stored on a large network, consisting of thousands of nodes. Nodes form the infrastructure of blockchain technology. They are interconnected, and share information among themselves to keep each other up-to-date. The blockchain functions on peer-to-peer technology. This is decentralised web users’ ability to share information among themselves. Each user has equal privileges and rights to the internet. There would be no ‘middlemen’ such as Google or Facebook involved.
The nodes function on the principle of the consensus algorithm. This means, for users to make any changes to the blockchain, their request would have to be approved by a majority of the thousands of nodes. This is one feature that makes blockchain immutable and incredibly secure. Each block is assigned a specific hash code, as well as that of the block behind it. Hash codes are created by complex mathematical calculations. If criminals or hackers want to alter information, the first step would be to find the complicated hash code. Next, their request would have to go through the consensus algorithm. Thirdly, they would require the hash codes of the entire blockchain to change. This would require enormous amounts of electricity, computational power and money. Additionally, it would be apparent that information has been altered if the hash codes do not match with what they were previously, making it easy for criminals to be caught.
Another problem that the blockchain fixes is that of user censorship. In the present internet, third party companies have the power to shut down websites and remove certain types of information. Governments can exploit this feature. For example, in Turkey, the Turkish Government has blocked nearly 100,000 websites. In China, there is a lack of access to essential information regarding COVID-19. In countries with authoritarian governments, leaders can create laws which censor freedom of speech on the internet. This is not possible on the decentralised web as Governments have virtually no control over the content, as well as due to the reasons listed above.
Since all the information used on Blockchain technology can be viewed by everyone, how would personal information, such as private messages function? If a hacker gets access to a cell phone that uses the decentralised web, although the user whose phone has been tapped into privacy would be affected (similar to even the centralised network), this would not affect the entire blockchain. A feature that is being explored is shredding personal information into different bits and storing it in different places on the blockchain, so that it is extremely difficult to piece together.
In the current state of the internet, every user falls into an echo chamber. This means that each user is fed the information that would align with their identities and perspectives on the world. For example, if a user with right-wing views surfs the web, the results provided to them would usually be conservative, orthodox sites, strengthening their opinions. This would not be possible on the decentralised web. The decentralised web does not store personal information and use it for their algorithm.
Several developers of Web 3.0 are trying to preserve information from our current web. They are doing this by copying web pages, downloading them and adding them to the decentralised web, to avoid losing this essential information forever.
Lastly, a common question about the decentralised web is: how can we be sure that the information being shared by people can be trusted? Not only can misinformation be prevented on the decentralised web, but Blockchain can also help tackle misinformation on the current internet. The New York Times partnered up with International Business Machines (IBM) to start the News Provenance Project. For more information regarding this undertaking: https://www.newsprovenanceproject.com
To conclude, the decentralised web can become the future of our internet. Although it would be a humongous change that may be difficult at first, to protect ourselves and our privacy, and to make the internet ours, Web 3.0 would be the perfect solution.
Written by Ishana Kandhari
Illustrated by Disha Kariwal
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