The internet of today is broken. We can use the internet, but we don’t own anything we do. Companies control our domain names, the content we host on web servers and our access to the internet. Now that so much of our information is on social media, this problem is even worse. Our social media IDs, our chat messages, our videos and anything else we publish online is controlled by giant companies. They can seize your assets, spy on you, ban you and sell your most intimate details to the highest bidder.
Not my domain
In the case of the domain name system (DNS), companies control domains, not users. Domains are frequently taken from users at the request of governments and other parties. France.com was seized from a man who had owned it since 1994 because the country of France believed it should be the owner. Owners of .com domains around the world are often surprised to discover that the U.S. government polices websites from all over the world by asking Verisign (owner of .com) to take away domains. The Libyan government seized vb.ly for violating Islamic law even though the website and its owner were not based in Libya. Anyone in the world with a .ly domain is subject to takedowns at the request of the Libyan government.
Hosting services suffer from a similar fate as DNS does. Companies and countries decide what can be published, not users. In Turkey, a law was passed that bans 150 words from being mentioned on any website in the country. One of these words is "gay and another one is "naked." Hosting services are being used to censor content that disagrees with the religious beliefs of the government in power. In China, the problem is even more extreme. Anyone who wants to publish online must first obtain a license.
And hosting providers are central points of failure. Not long ago, AWS had an outage, which effectively turned off large portions of the internet. These problems all come back to this issue of companies owning user data versus users owning their own data.
It doesn’t have to be this way
All of this would change if users, not companies, controlled their digital assets and data. This is now possible for the first time in history with the creation of blockchain networks like Ethereum, Filecoin and others. By 2030, assuming decentralized networks succeed, the internet will undergo massive changes that are better for users and for freedom on the internet. We can have a user controlled internet that promotes freedom across the world.
So what will 2030 look like?
Websites are controlled by communities, not by any one person or company. The community votes on what articles are posted and what content is covered. I visit a popular news website that isn’t controlled by any particular person or group. The top news headlines are voted on by users. Even determining whether an article is truthful or overly biased is determined by the crowd.
After reading the news of the day, I decided to check on my favorite investment fund. This is also a community-owned project, where investment decisions are voted on and members can opt to participate in deals. I’m intrigued by the latest underwater robot tech and decide to put in a little bit of money. I click two buttons and the funds are sent.
Instead of tech companies individually determining what information is okay to share online and what isn’t, users decide.
I open my browser and check out some of the latest content. I navigate to one in particular, but my browser offers a warning – this content is potentially violent and disturbing. Do I want to see it anyway? Something else I click on is blocked entirely because I’ve set my browser to filter out such content. I’ve chosen to use the American Civil Liberties Union’s list of filtered websites because I like its view on where the line is between free speech and hate speech.
Of course, if I disagree with ACLU's view, I simply set my browser to resolve all websites or I use an open-source browser that resolves every website available. Companies are now competing in an open market to deliver the best user protection from harmful content while still giving me the ultimate choice over what I view online.
Instead of social media companies owning user data, users store information on decentralized hosting networks and carry their data around with them on the internet. If an application wants access to a particular piece of data, users give that app permission. Often, that permission is to use a piece of data without the app’s creators being able to see the data or identify who I am.
I jump onto a social network that has a slick search function for finding info about my friends. I’m looking for friends who have traveled to a particular city in the past few months so I can get travel advice. Next, I want to read about the latest political discussions my friends are having. I jump onto another social network and my contacts, messages, comments and the rest of my info follow me as I move across these networks.
Each friend has just one username, not one per social media app. I am trying out a new social network I’ve never tried before. I don’t need to rebuild my social graph because my contacts and data come along with me. I just log in the first time and it works. I share some data with the app and I get paid. I then choose to watch an ad and get paid again.
As a superuser, I get a steady stream of revenue from one of my most important assets, my online data. New apps are popping up all of the time and companies are constantly competing to provide me the best user experience, which includes paying the highest price possible for my data and my attention.
Users profit, not (just) companies
By 2030, the transition from a corporate-controlled to a user-controlled internet has made everyone on the planet wealthier. Access to new services has reduced the costs for literally billions of people to borrow money, start businesses or invest in their education. Users and their data will be set free. Just as physical property rights ended indentured servitude and launched the industrial revolution, digital property rights have brought about a digital industrial revolution.
I have tens of thousands of dollars in digital value just from monetizing social media accounts. As much as 50% of my wealth is digital now instead of physical. The digital economy is booming and consumers are the primary beneficiaries.
If this is our future, we will all be better off because of it.
The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.