The Decentralized Internet: The Future of Online Searching
THE ORIGINAL PURPOSE OF THE INTERNET
The internet’s original mission was to build a common neutral network, with equal participation, for the betterment of humanity. After the first dot com bubble, large corporations (such as Google, Facebook, etc.) realized that the largest value gained from this neutral network involved gathering, organizing, and monetizing information through a central server. Therefore, companies built their value by growing huge centralised services on the internet, while disabling the ability to link to content via a URL (i.e. videos uploaded directly onto Facebook get algorithmic preference over YouTube URL’s posted on Facebook) or allowing search engines to index their content (i.e. creating algorithms making it hard to find Facebook videos on Google).
PROBLEMS WITH TRADITIONAL SEARCH ENGINES
Loss of Individual Privacy Rights
This creates a world where people lose individual privacy rights. Rather than users owning their own information, a few companies track and store user information for their own personal profit. They do this by dropping “cookies” on users’ hard-drives, then compiling them into predefined interest categories to which advertisers can later use to target tailored ads. This wealth of information allows search engines not only to sell more tailored behavior advertising to users, but build upon itself to constantly improve users’ search results. It is unclear whether the search engines’ primary purpose to hold this data is due to the former or the latter interest. While Google assures that improving ranking algorithms is the main reason for holding user information, scholars such as Hoofnagle point to a search engine’s strong incentive to use collected information to expand their advertising based business model. As a result, “Innovation is raised as a privacy tradeoff in the context of data retention”.
Despite this plethora of collected information, targeted advertisements are not always effective. Advertisers pay high fees to search engines in order to reach their target audience while nearly half of all ad traffic is AI bot generated. There is no guarantee that an advertisement will reach its intended audience, or whether or not ad traffic is genuine. As a result, advertisers pay high fees with low conversion rates and consequently receive a low return on investment.
This affects the whole value chain. Advertisers pay increasingly high fees to search engine “middle men” causing product price markups for consumers. In this way, advertisers end up overpaying, and consumers end up overcharged.
HOW DECENTRALIZATION SOLVES THESE PROBLEMS
What is Decentralization?
Internet Decentralization creates a world where services such as communication, banking, publishing, social networking, research, archiving, etc. are provided not by centralised services owned by single organisations (such as Google or Facebook), but by user powered technology (by the people, for the people). In this sense the internet becomes a “true democracy” rather than trusted blindly to an omnipotent company. Users share responsibility for services in a peer-to-peer distributed network. Information is run on servers across client side apps or on multiple federated servers. The digital structure of the cryptographic technology holds users accountable and encourages ethical behavior.
Users of decentralized networks own and control how their information is used and shared. Encrypted data accessed through personal private keys keeps information secure and anonymous until the user decides if and who to release it to.
Large corporate middle men get cut out. Smart contracts entered directly between user chosen advertisers makes user information available to specific retailers. This saves money for both retailers and consumers by reducing irrelevant, costly, ads. In this way, users can be compensated for using the platform by sharing their information with advertisers.
Case Study: Bitclave
An example of this is BitClave’s Active Search Ecosystem (BASE) which compensates users for sharing their data with Consumer Activity Tokens (CATs). The currency can subsequently be used for purchases with accepting retailers or converted into a fiat currency. The role of the search engine, in this case, becomes similar to that of a real estate agent. The realtor matches a buyer and seller but gives the individuals the final decision on the business transaction. This profits the user by allowing it to potentially make money from its personal information and receive ads for products that are actually relevant. This consequently benefits advertisers as well who reduce useless spending and increase conversion rates.
In order to return to the internet’s original purpose and to foster a stronger digital commons search engines must allocate users greater autonomy in choosing what and how they search, give increased control over search results, and free users from biased technological, governmental policy and corporate constraints. In order to do this, decentralized search engines focus improvement on privacy, data portability, and security.
Decentralized search engines increase privacy when searching for products and information online. User data is distributed across a network through end-to-end encryption technologies and personal user keys. This ensures that only authorized users can read and write the data. The network algorithmically controls who may access user data rather than giving full access to omnipotent network owners who use that data to profile users and target ads. Decentralization allows users to become in control of what information they share rather than relying on centralized omnipotent search engines to make that decision. In return, users receive targeted offers that they are specifically interested in.
2. Data Portability
When users control their information in a decentralized environment, they are easily able to transfer their information between platforms. This is vital. Say you decide to switch from Facebook to another social networking platform. In the current model, users can not take their photos, friend lists, or any other information specific to them to the new social networking site and must therefore start all over. In a decentralized environment, users retain control of their information when leaving a given platform or service provider, making such transfer easy.
Increased internet reliance leads to an increased susceptibility to security threats. Large centralized corporations are bait for cyber attacks looking to steal personal information (i.e. as seen with Equifax). Decentralized, peer-to-peer architecture naturally impose greater security from attacks. They are built to exist under public scrutiny from the outset, and therefore make attacks by malicious actors impractical.