As the Fair Data Society puts it, we are workers in the data economy. Our personal data – basically the digital blueprint of our lives – is collected by platforms we interact with, mostly in non-transparent ways. At best, it is used to improve our user experience. At worst, our privacy is violated, monetized, and even armed against us.
It all started with the emergence and growth of the user-generated web, when seemingly free social media networks, search engines, and corporations saw a new way to capitalize on it and jumped into the business of collecting, storing, analyzing, and selling user data. By 2022, the data market had grown immensely. According to Statista, a total of 64.2 zettabytes of data were created, consumed and put online by 2020. By 2025, that number is projected to exceed 180 zettabytes.
About the development of data sovereignty in a for-profit climate, Professor Sabina Leonelli said:
“Individual agency in the data economy has shrunk, with a few organizations dominating the terms under which information can be shared and used, to the detriment of individual rights and collective agency.”
In fact, over three quarters of the global search market is controlled by the Google search engine and over 3.6 billion unique users across four social media platforms are controlled by Meta.
Data sovereignty course
Big tech companies recognized the pressure and increasing regulatory demand, so in 2018 the Data Transfer Project was launched. Six contributors – Google, Microsoft, Apple, Twitter, Facebook and SmugMug – have committed to enabling seamless data transfer between platforms via a common framework with open-source code. Still, this was only the first step to allow users to reclaim their data.
In recent years, the demand for transparency, lack of trust, security and decentralization has emerged in many areas of our lives: from finance to organizational management to data storage. This is evident in the blockchain technologies and solutions such as Decentralized Finance, Decentralized Autonomous Organizations and Web3, which aim to give users full control over their digital lives and protect the fundamental human right to privacy.
Related: DAOs are the foundation of Web3, the creator economy, and the future of work
So what are data sovereignty and radical data ownership – and how can they be achieved?
In short, achieving data sovereignty means giving the user full control over their data. You finally know (and have a say in) where the data goes and for what purposes it can be used, while the data itself is not tied to a single platform. Proponents of this concept aim to create a new, fair digital space where information is used for social good and its value is distributed in accordance with Web3 and Fair Data principles, and there are a number of decentralized tools who will help achieve that.
Web3: My keys, my data
One of the key features of Web3 that sets it apart from the web we know is the lack of centralized data stores. Decentralized storage offers us a single source of truth – just like blockchain, only for private and big data.
The use of protocols and a decentralized data layer will allow information to be encrypted and exchanged in a system of peer-to-peer networks, while content-based addressing ensures that we know the data has not been tampered with: when we read a chunk downloading from a specific address, we know that data is correct because its hash corresponds to the address.
In addition, there is no data sovereignty without data interoperability. Unlike data monopolies where users are tied to proprietary interfaces, Web3 is based on the idea of using no-custody solutions. By using keys, users can access the same set of their private data from multiple platforms (also known as BYOD) and move it freely between storages and apps.
The registration process will also undergo changes. First, we use email addresses to create accounts or associate them with our Google and Facebook profiles. In Web3, email credentials are replaced with wallet addresses. “Sign in with Ethereum”, funded by the Ethereum Foundation and likely to become the standard, is a good example here. While all interactions with the blockchain are publicly viewable, logging in with an anonymous wallet address helps maintain confidentiality.
Meanwhile, builders and content creators gain access to new ways to monetize their content. Both fungible and non-fungible tokens are Web3’s “likes” and “retweets”. These can be used to reward high-quality content and share data, while ensuring the creator gets a fair share of royalties.
Related: The Metaverse: Mark Zuckerberg’s Brave New World
Finally, as far as control of data goes, adopting decentralized governance is another way to overthrow Big Tech’s monopolistic power. Decentralized autonomous organizations have the potential to bring democracy and transparency to the decision-making process on the blockchain as transactions are verified by consensus.
Bringing trust and privacy to the data economy
Achieving digital sovereignty means treating users as people, not as cogs in the machinery of the data economy. To summarize the above, this can be achieved by building human-centric applications that prioritize data interoperability and data sovereignty, thereby incentivizing the development of a new web infrastructure that supports encryption, privacy, and ethical, transparent business models supports. Of course, basic digital literacy would also reduce the likelihood of internet users unknowingly signing their privacy.
Related: The data economy is a dystopian nightmare
As a final note, it would be important to emphasize that this is a collaborative effort – one that is larger than any single person or organization – and the entire Web3 space should work together. In this way, we can begin to reclaim individual privacy and bring trust to the data economy at a societal level.
This article does not contain any investment advice or recommendation. Every investment and trading move involves risk and readers should do their own research when making a decision.
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Gregory Savcer has extensive experience in community building, brand identity, marketing, business development, blockchain technology and decentralized economy. He got involved in the Ethereum community early on, which led him to found his own decentralized data management startup. Today Gregor is operations manager at Swarm, a decentralized storage and communication system for a sovereign digital society.
https://cointelegraph.com/news/digital-sovereignty-reclaiming-your-private-data-in-web3 Reclaim your private data in Web3