It has often been said that “data is the new gold”. Although this may be the case, this commodity is monopolised by a select few. Namely, the tech titans who have, throughout the last couple of decades, hoarded user data to suppress their competition.
Thankfully, things seem to be changing for the better. Just weeks ago, news broke that that the European Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO) voted in favour of tougher restrictions and consent requirements on how such companies are able to utilise internet users’ data for ad targeting purposes. Not only does this move threaten to de-throne previously untouchable tech conglomerates, but it also marks a step forward towards reclaiming the power that has made firms like Facebook, Google and Amazon become some of the most successful organisations in the world.
Beyond these changes, another important development in this regard is the emergence of the decentralised web, or Web 3.0, which aims to ‘distribute the cloud’ for a fairer data-sharing experience. Inevitably, this will change the business landscape for the better.
So, how exactly would a decentralised web environment make for a more democratic data-sharing experience, and what impact could this have on the way organisations do business?
Democratising Data and New Opportunities for Innovation
Essentially, the main result of shifting towards a decentralised web is that it will bring down the monopoly that tech giants currently have on user data. It’s important to note that the World Wide Web has strayed quite far from Tim Berners-Lee’s original vision of the internet as an “open space”.
Quite the contrary, the internet has come to stand as a system of centralised power, where the biggest platforms are able to control users’ experience of the internet, given the large pool of personal data that they lay claim to. This can be put down to a so-called ‘network effect’, where size begets size – Facebook and Google, known as the Duopoly, made combined ad revenues of $219 million (£163 million) in 2020 alone, claiming 34% of the total market, for example.
Although further legislation changes in Europe (notably, the General Data Protection Act, otherwise known as the GDPR) have aimed to give users back some control over their data, the result of this imbalance of power is that startups and smaller players will still suffer at the hands of tech titans. In essence, less money will be pumped into smaller businesses if we carry on along this trajectory, as profits are continually swallowed by the giants. In the words of Tim Berners-Lee, some might say that “The web has evolved into an engine of inequity and division; swayed by powerful forces who use it for their own agendas.”
It goes without saying that the beyond monetary concerns, the centralisation of data itself creates a single point of failure, which leaves consumers vulnerable to hackers to misuse their data.
That said, there is no time like the present to drive change.
So, what to do with all this? One suggestion is that data should be made more widely available to customers and other firms to make the market more equitable. Currently, banks in Europe are required to make key data available in real time to other firms, so long as their customers permit this. Regulators could take a leaf out of this book, and make anonymised data available to competitors – a development which could seriously change the game.
No longer will notions of ‘competition’, or nefarious data harvesting exist to the same degree – data-sharing would allow for more widespread innovation, far closer to the original intent of the internet, which was supposed to function as a network within which individuals and organisations could collaborate for the common good.
More generally, businesses stand to gain from a decentralised architecture by enjoying improved flexibility and speed of decision making, greater protection in the face of hackers, as well as enhanced workflows and ease of sharing information. Additionally, firms will find it easier to access a wider talent pool, identify their strengths and weaknesses and lower costs and overheads.
Looking to the future, a decentralised web will equip users and businesses with a new sense of autonomy over their data, creating the opportune environment for innovation, where all will benefit from new and novel solutions. Accountability, transparency and engagement will finally be held at the core of the World Wide Web, which I’m sure are sentiments many of us can get behind.
By Chris Starkey, Founder and Director, NexGen Cloud.
NexGen Cloud provides decentralised cloud computing by creating new ways to power the metaverse. It has data centre operations established in the Nordics (Sweden, Norway and Denmark) sourced from carbon neutral energy.