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The Solution To The Internet’s Data Hoarding Problem

Li Jun, Founder of Ontology, discusses how Self Sovereign Identity solutions will reshape the way we share data on the internet

Every time you click onto the internet, you add to your digital identity, creating a virtual memory of who you are, what you look at, and where you spend your browsing time. Have you ever wondered where this identity exists and who has access to it? As it stands, internet users have very little oversight over the personal information they share with different platforms and how this is managed and stored. As the world increasingly moves online to offer key services, users must strive for better protection. In order to do so, it is essential that they are equipped with the right information and tools.

Self Sovereign Identity (SSI) solutions can help to facilitate this. Using blockchain to empower users, SSI solutions help users to take back control of their identity online by ensuring security and data management are at the forefront of every exchange.

Current limitations on data protection across the internet mean that users too often blindly accept cookies and hand over their data to renowned hoarders. Cookies are little text files that websites store on your computer in order to track your activity. Regular cookies are essential for tracking your browser preferences and settings, however, third party cookies pose a more significant threat to your privacy as they track user settings across various websites, making it possible for companies to monitor your browsing activity long after you have left their platforms.

In its most simple form, this means that companies can show you targeted ads on a platform such as Instagram for products that you may have looked at on a totally different platform weeks before. In its more sinister form, this could mean that companies are able to record, analyze, utilize, and potentially share a virtual map of everything you do on the internet.

On a macro scale, the unchecked harvesting of data as facilitated by the likes of cookies and other technologies can have significant implications for user privacy. Showcasing this, a massive data breach recently exposed the private emails and numbers of 533 million users, making it extremely easy for hackers and scammers to target users across the globe. European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has gone as far as to accuse tech giants of “monopolistic practices that tilt the market, perpetuating their dominance while reducing consumer choice and squeezing out competition.”

The unilateral control of virtual marketplaces by large companies, which facilitate the existence of other smaller businesses within their networks, means that they have ultimate control over what information and products are shown to which consumers. The smallest amount of consumer data can be collected and managed across internal different pools, not to mention shared across different platforms. This can then be reused and remodelled for thousands of different applications through human or systematic interference without any user knowledge. With access to myriad amounts of invaluable user data, these companies are able to shape user experiences and hone their marketplaces so that they remain on top.

While it would be easy to lay the blame at the feet of Big Tech companies, they are not the only ones that track the activity of their customers. Small businesses, educational institutes, and even news channels track users in order to learn about browsing times on their websites, what they clicked on, and various other things. This helps them to get insights about the people using their platforms and what their needs are. On the whole this process is beneficial for improving products and services based on user activity. It is when the tracking goes beyond the acceptable confines of data collection, through the likes of third party cookies, that companies’ practises must be reprimanded.

In no other industry are you unequivocally required to exchange personal information in order to enter a public domain or buy products. Imagine if before purchasing your groceries or even entering a supermarket you were asked to write down your email and hand it to an employee who would then store it within the company’s personal records. This would never be allowed — so why do consumers passively accept the same practices online? The answer is that they are lacking the necessary information and technology to guard themselves against hostile tracking of their private information.

A recent study by the Pew Research Centre found that 81% of participants said that the potential risks they face because of data collection on the internet outweigh the benefits. This clearly suggests that consumers are not comfortable with how companies collect and store their personal information. The argument that consumers are happy to benefit from unchecked targeted advertising and tailored posts seems highly contentious in light of these findings.

Users clearly want to protect their personal information and place barriers between companies and their data where necessary. The onus therefore is on tech companies to provide them with the right tools and information to do so. Blockchain can play a major role in placing consumers back in the driving seat with data privacy, by allowing them to control the private information on a network which only approved individuals can access. Self-Sovereign Identity solutions should be implemented in order to facilitate control of personal information by consumers.

To break it down, SSI systems give users a unique identifier that they can use to manage their identity and access online services using only one ID. This provides a means of data authorization and ownership confirmation, giving respective users actual control of a particular asset. The systems use Zero-Knowledge Proofs (ZKPs) to assure that services only access the specific data they require to verify identity, thereby ensuring privacy protection and limiting the potential for services to continue tracking users’ activity beyond the realm of what they approve or even see. Different entities can also build strong trust relationships amongst themselves through mutual authentication between entities, meaning that the sharing of information can be facilitated between parties in a way that is agreed beforehand.

As the world increasingly moves online to offer key services, whether these be economic, healthcare-based, or educational, it is essential that consumers have better oversight of how they are sharing personal information. Technology companies must move to equip users with the tools they need to effectively manage their data. Using blockchain, SSI solutions empower users to control their identity online by ensuring security and data management are at the forefront of any exchange. Going forward this system offers a pathway for a new way of operating on the internet, where users are in control of their data and how it is shared.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.



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