Business

Why we must fight for a decentralized future

If you’re interested in cryptocurrency or blockchain, there’s a good chance I don’t need to explain the benefits of decentralization. You are a first-generation user of a technology that is increasingly shaping the future of the Internet, and you have a front row seat to the world premiere of Web3.

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Internet usage and control has always been as centralized as we see it today. In the early days, under the direction of the US Department of Defense, the network did not have to rely on a core computer. What if a terrorist attack or missile attack brought down the main node? Individual network parts needed to communicate without relying on a single computer to reduce vulnerability.

Later, the unincorporated Internet Engineering Task Force that enabled the development of all Internet protocols worked non-stop to prevent private companies or specific countries from controlling the network.

Today, centralized app nodes are controlled and operated by the world’s wealthiest organizations, collecting and storing billions of pieces of human data. Private companies control the user experience of apps and can incentivize and manipulate behavior. From a reliability standpoint, billions lose their primary means of communication when centralized nodes go down – as in the recent Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger incidents in October 2021.

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We’ve also seen how little the tech giants think about our privacy when dollar signs appear in their eyes: they harvest and sell our data on an industrial scale. After more than 10 years of using humans as products for advertisers, Mark Zuckerberg has brazenly taken over the metaverse. Meanwhile, Google and Apple continue their relentless mission to penetrate every corner of our lives.

Related: The data economy is a dystopian nightmare

We also know what happens when authoritarian governments knock on the doors of these centralized mega data stores powered by our devices acting as a surveillance army. We have seen in Ukraine the horrifying, large-scale violence that can be excused or hidden when media and military power fall under authoritarian control. In some countries, the state has unprecedented access to every aspect of citizens’ behavior, monitoring everything from Internet search history to minor social infractions. Systems that would even shock George Orwell are only possible through centralization.

Even in Silicon Valley, embedded in Western notions of individual freedom and rights, tech empires rarely choose a principled stance in the face of a large, lucrative market. When centralized powers like Moscow, Beijing or Istanbul ask for censorship and control, they usually get it. Basically, we can’t trust the tech giants with the innermost details of our lives; The centralization of control over the Internet undermines or prevents democracy everywhere.

Let’s take back our power

We shouldn’t be surprised that tech giants have become natural enemies of decentralization: centralization is a natural instinct for those in control. Until the advent of the internet and blockchain, centralization often meant convenience and simplicity. In the Middle Ages, a distributed system of vassal lords meant the monarchy lacked control and money trickled through the cracks of corruption.

With time and distance no longer an issue in the Internet age, Big Tech’s trend toward centralization is less surprising. Can we wonder about the horrifying results of attention-grabbing algorithms, such as attempted genocides or political manipulation based on psychometric analysis of user data? Centralization has consequences.

Distributed ledger technology offers a practical alternative. Social media, messaging, streaming, search and data sharing on the blockchain can be fairer, more transparent and accessible and less centralized. Conversely, this does not mean that data has to be less private.

In the case of XX Messenger, which my team and I launched in January, XX network nodes around the world process anonymous messages and shred metadata for recipients and timestamps. With XX there is privacy and decentralization. Later, this new paradigm of communication and information sharing allows for a significant expansion and reinvention of democracy.

Related: Blockchain-based decentralized messengers: A dream for data protection?

There are moments in history when two separate events come together to tell a greater truth. When Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. collapsed in the wake of the Great Recession in 2008, it appeared to be the death knell for centralized financial institutions, despite the economic pain it brought. Then, just over a month later, Satoshi Nakamoto published the white paper Bitcoin (BTC), the revolutionary blueprint for a modern peer-to-peer currency. There is an important connection between these two momentous events, yet the words “bitcoin,” “blockchain,” and “cryptocurrency” draw eye-rolls from those who misunderstand the problems of centralization.

In the fall of 2008, the opportunity arose to tell a story: it is up to us – the cryptographers, privacy advocates, traders, developers, activists and converts – to carry on the torch of decentralization and democracy. If ever there was a story that deserved to be told from beginning to end, this is it.

Join the storytelling.

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.

David Chaum is one of the earliest blockchain researchers and a world-renowned cryptographer and privacy advocate. Known as “The Godfather of Privacy,” Chaum first proposed a solution for protecting metadata using Mix-Cascade networks in 1979. In 1982, his PhD thesis at the University of California, Berkeley became the first known proposal for a blockchain protocol. Chaum developed eCash, the first digital currency, and made numerous contributions to secure voting systems in the 1990s. Today, Chaum is the founder of Elixxir, Praxxis, and the XX Network, which combine his decades of research and contributions in cryptography and privacy to provide cutting-edge blockchain solutions.