Gatekeepers and the move toward decentralization
Money and information flourish most where they’re freest
After the news broke this week that Apple had removed an app from its platform that allows pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong to track the whereabouts of police, I realized that the gatekeepers have too much power, and we have only ourselves to blame for it.
You see, we’ve allowed a world to exist where there are really only two places you can get a smartphone app: Apple and Google. Sure, there are other ways to get apps. But you have to jump through a lot of hoops, and most people don’t bother to do that, even if they know how.
So instead of living in a future where the governments of the world directly control the flow of information (and money), we live in one where a handful of corporations make the rules. And I’m not sure we’re much better off.
Case in point with Apple.
When you’ve invested huge sums of money in a country that’s both authoritarian and capitalist, what do you do when the government puts pressure on you to censor something?
If you’re Apple, you cave.
And Apple isn’t alone. The NBA caved too last week after a Houston Rockets executive tweeted his support of the Hong Kong protesters. The Rockets apologized after complaints from the Chinese government.
We’ve always heard that the pen is mightier than the sword; now we’re finding out that money is too.
Just a week or so ago, the story broke that U.S. Attorney General William Barr had sent Facebook a letter demanding that the company stop its plans for end-to-end encryption across its messaging services. (End-to-end encryption ensures that only the communicating parties can read the messages. Government authorities, social media platforms, tech manufacturers and other would-be eavesdroppers can’t.) Luckily, Facebook isn’t the only messaging game in town, so if it were to give in, there are other choices available, like Signal or Threema. But what happens when the governments of the world pressure Apple and Google to remove encrypted messaging apps from their platforms in the name of “national security” or “safeguarding the public”?
If you’ve used cryptocurrency and followed blockchain technology, one word you’ve probably heard a lot is decentralization. Merriam-Webster defines decentralization as” the dispersion or distribution of functions and powers.” You might say that the less centralized something is, the more democratic it is. So, in a sense, when we as consumers allow one bookstore, one smartphone operating system, one news organization, one social media platform, one search engine or one cryptocurrency exchange to gain too much power, we become less democratic … less free.
Remember… the more decentralized money and information are, the less they can be manipulated.
One of the great ironies of cryptocurrency culture is that the people who are drawn to crypto by its reputation for decentralization are the same ones who allow one coin and a few big exchanges to dominate the market. Ordinary people with consumer-grade computers haven’t been able to mine Bitcoin for years, and truly decentralized community-based coins can’t get on the big cryptocurrency exchanges because of the payola system that has emerged.
Sooner or later, technology will fix these problems. Decentralized cryptocurrency exchanges, for example, already exist, but the user experience isn’t good enough yet for mass adoption. Ditto for decentralized apps. That’s going to change.
For now, we’re stuck with the gatekeepers. But everything will continue toward decentralization because money and information flourish where they’re free — not unlike people.