The World Wide Web has revolutionized human communication, but it is under threat.
At Brave, we believe that this distributed and interconnected information system is unique among platforms for many reasons: Its design and alignment are not controlled by any organization. Its pages and applications can be modified by users (e.g. extensions, blocking of ads / trackers, more general browser configuration, etc.). The decentralized design gives the web the potential to provide more data protection than any other system.
Brendan Eich is the CEO and co-founder of Brave. Peter Snyder is a Senior Privacy Researcher at Brave. This article is part of the CoinDesk "Internet 2030" series.
Brave is perhaps best known today for protecting online privacy, but we also delve into long-term trends, especially those that could weaken or effectively end its decentralized nature. While it is difficult to build privacy-conscious decentralized systems, maintaining privacy on the web becomes even more difficult as less and less control is centralized in fewer organizations.
We'd like to outline three threats to web decentralization and explain why we believe they should affect everyone.
Centralization in content distribution
The growth of centralized distribution systems is detrimental to the decentralization of the web. While we are concerned that more and more web sites are being served by fewer and fewer CDNs (content delivery networks), we are particularly concerned about systems like Google's AMP or a potential WebPackaging-based AMP follow-up mandating design decisions for Publisher (and thus indirectly also for other browsers).
Data protection and decentralization support each other
The more of the web served by a single party and using a format that was primarily designed by a single party, the fewer votes and goals land in the future design of the web. While Web 3.0 cannot ensure that the Web will reflect a wide range of uses and requirements, a centralized Web almost ensures that it does not.
Consent Management Systems and Delayed Alternatives
We think it is obvious that the future of the web is data protection by default: privacy-focused tools like Brave are growing in popularity, and laws like GDPR and CCPA increasingly recognize that people have a right to data protection. However, the suggestions from tracking companies on how current systems can be maintained are tragically comically complicated. They stack layers and layers of machines on obsolete, user-damaging systems to withstand change.
See also: Data protection laws are only as effective as the companies that implement them
The existing centralized surveillance economy is making every last effort to slow down privacy as much as possible. Systems like the Orwellian named "consent management platforms" provide the ability to store information about what types of tracking users "consent", often through dialogues with dark patterns and unfathomable descriptions designed to trick users into "consent". to confuse or exhaust.
These systems are detrimental to the goal of a decentralized web that protects privacy as they slow progress and accelerate regression. For anyone who is careful, the future does not lie in huge databases where quasi-consent signals are collected to excuse data breaches. By default, the future of the web lies in data protection. The sooner the surveillance economy sees the inevitable, the faster we can move forward.
Finally, we believe that the current widespread practice of collecting and profiling people (both on and off the internet) contradicts the underlying goals of decentralization and is not just unethical.
Centralized profiling increases the incentive for websites to track you, essentially to "monetize" your data by selling it to data brokers. The scope and risks of decisions made on the Internet are difficult for users to predict, and generally place trackers and data brokers in positions of tremendous, unaccountable power. At the border, this leads to psychological warfare campaigns via advertising campaigns and advertised "user-generated" content.
Data protection and decentralization support each other's goals here. Improving privacy reduces the "usefulness" of user profiles, reducing the ability of trackers to centralize power on the web. Likewise, a decentralized web in which no party can track you will make it much more difficult for data collectors to invade your privacy in order to gain monopoly or market power.
Data breaches and the increasing centralization of power supplies are just two of the many threats to what makes the web a unique and uniquely user-centric platform. Other threats range from making sure that the web is accessible and enjoyable for everyone, anywhere, not just those with the latest devices, to making sure that websites are accessible to users of all physical needs and abilities.
See also: Ben Powers – When companies violate privacy, they are doing real damage
The more people and organizations involved in web standards, activism, and browser development, the better we can ensure that the future of the web is private and decentralized by default, and always serves the user first.