Permanence on Web3 will be More Desired than Today’s Misguided Sense of Privacy
A clash of opinions is taking place right now. Web3 and web2 are facing each other. Concepts are used as bullets by each party. They are aiming to kill others’ views, not to be weighted, understood, and accepted or rejected, depending on the inherent values they carry.
One side is shooting “decentralization”, “censorship resistant”, “immutability”, “ownership,” and so on. The others retaliate with “Ponzi”, “no real use case”, “eco-terrorism” and “assault on privacy”.
Sometimes I indulge myself in going down the rabbit hole of those pointless debates. This is both an internal exercise to blunt my rough edges and try to understand different reasoning, and an external exercise to see if one could change their standpoint after an honest debate. The outcome is usually sterile; still, more than once, I felt those defending web2 believed that only in its centralized boundaries can one protect their online privacy.
Participants in favour of web2 in the debate often bring up the open character of data stored on blockchains. This obsession is fueled even more by members of the crypto community trying to imply that one of the core features of blockchain is privacy. It’s not. Let’s stop propagating a lie as web2 did.
Why is this important? Because we have to understand what web (disregarding the label we attach to it) really is and not distort its actual nature because of our offline fears. easier to assure a potential adopter that the web is safe and private than to explain that there is no such thing as true privacy online; we can only ensure that some layers of privacy are less prone to be breached. We have to seek the core proposition elsewhere – in provenance, immutability, and accountability.
What web2 believers think they receive in terms of the privacy in the current state:
A personal space where they can safely upload various content and then choose with whom they will interact and share different parts of their content with. It is a place where they can safely assume other alter egos without fearing being associated with their real-life selves.
What are they willing to give in for that:
Paradoxically, they know that tech companies and sometimes even their governments use their data. Remember only the documented use of Pegasus software by particular governments, or what Snowden is talking about from time to time. People know this stuff; still, they won’t stop using those services because they don’t have alternatives…yet.
What has this false sense of security created:
We were never more indulgent with our content than today. We hypocritically demand corporations and governments to keep our data safe while feeding their algorithms with even more data. We strive for attention and recognition, but we cater only the positive reactions. We love to make bold statements and then erase them as they never happened. We stopped learning from our mistakes because we recollect none. Our feeds are perfect.
Web2 entities treated their users like children who don’t know any better. They pampered us to have the smoothest interaction possible with the payment button. In the process, they told us whatever we wanted to hear.
In reality, the privacy of web2 brings certainty in only one aspect: the monopoly on your data exercised by a few large corporations and states. Their monopoly will be gone when you put that data into the open.
And this leads us to web3. What can it bring that web2 lacks? First of all, clarity. No more endless privacy policies that no one reads. You have two stances regarding privacy, each transparent by design:
Identity privacy — arguably more secure than in web2. The seed phrase of an electronic wallet is way less prone to be hacked using brute force than the standard user authentication process needed for most web2 applications. The most “hacks” happening in web3 are confidence tricks devised to manipulate one to give control over their wallet willingly.
There are dormant wallets worth hundreds of millions, clear incentives for hackers to crack them, still unscathed over time.
Can we state the same thing about web2 accounts? Definitely not. There is a known practice of hacking dormant verified Twitter accounts and running scams behind the blue ribbon assurance. Hell, in 2020, even active, high-profile accounts were hijacked and used to deceive people. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Data privacy — for the sake of web2 defenders, let’s assume there is none. (Although I already argued in another article that nobody implies to upload only readable data on the blockchain; not to mention privacy-focused chains like Monero). From the beginning, you willingly renounce to the privacy of your overall financial records and web3 interactions…brrr, a scary perspective.
What do you receive in return?
Verifiable on-chain data implies that your actions matter and you should be responsible for them. You have to think twice before acting maliciously. Like IRL you are building your reputation and every member of the community could scrutinize your activity. There are no do-overs. If you want to fool around, you will still have web2, however, all the “serious” stuff regarding your online persona will revolve around web3. True accountability could never be achieved in the present state of the internet.
Derived from true accountability and from the immutable nature of the transactions (this is an unusual take for web 3, I know), you are granted equality in the eyes of the law. I’m speaking about real equality, not about those empty words promised by almost every constitution. It won’t matter how big an entity is, how many lawyers they have on their payroll. Your interactions, and theirs, will be visible to everyone. How many abuses on the part of big tech were brought to justice? How can simple individuals demonstrate that a mega-corporation stole something from them?
Thea-Mai Baumann's Instagram handle was @metaverse. “You are now a millionaire,” one person messaged her when Facebook announced it was changing its name. "Fb isn’t gonna buy it, they’re gonna take it,” said another.
— The New York Times (@nytimes) December 13, 2021
By the way, don’t be fooled by this story’s positive resolution. The lady regained her Instagram handle but the New York Times had to ask about it – a month after the initial complaint. Imagine how many arbitrary actions like this are happening and are not scrutinized by big media. Do people wronged by corporations have a standing chance against them in the present?
In web3, this sort of problem won’t even exist. Your username will be genuinely your property inside your wallet, not an obscure entry in a centralized database.
What I’ve portrayed until now is just one part of the picture. If I stop now, web2 and web3 will seem the same in one particular aspect: their relevancy over time. Like their web2 counterparts, almost all the blockchain protocols have a very foggy picture of the future. Don’t ask them: “where do you see yourself in five years?” because they won’t have a straight answer. Even Bitcoin’s future as an operational network is debatable after it ceases its mining. OK…it will happen in 2140, but if we don’t address those questions now it’s like we are saying that we are not concerned about our grandchildren’s future.
The single protocol I’m aware of, which addressed the question of resilience over time, is Arweave. Others will probably follow. However, it looks more and more like Arweave will become a layer 0 solution, the foundation on which layer 1 protocols will build.
What does this mean? Besides immutability and the traits that emerge from it, web3 powered by Arweave will represent a more resilient digital construct.
Imagine your digital persona becoming a crest that can be passed through generations. How much do you know about your ancestors from the XIXth century? Do you want your memory to embrace the same fate as theirs? Or should you become the root of your everlasting web3 genealogical tree?
I know that this sounds almost crazy right now. Maybe I’m wrong, but if I’m right, and you can record your digital presence into permanence for future generations, wouldn’t this be more valuable than the fake sense of privacy delivered by the internet of today?