Is the decentralization of the Internet the solution?
de•cent• in•ter•net• tralised
1. a way to democratize, access and break Big Tech monopolies
is the internet really
“centralized” right now?
Not in the sense that a single entity ““owns” the Internet, but a handful of companies have enormous control over much of the Internet’s physical infrastructure, as well as the data and commerce that takes place online. “Decentralized Internet” is a generic term, but the basic idea is to circumvent mass surveillance and prevent giant corporations (like Facebook, Google, and Twitter) from having a single Internet kill switch, largely by running Internet on peer-to-peer networks.
Does any of this have anything to do with Bitcoin?
Some cryptocurrency enthusiasts envision a decentralized internet built around crypto and blockchain infrastructure, which they call “the Web3.” (The Web 1.0 usually refers to the development of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, while the web 2.0 refers to the evolution of the Internet towards mobile and social platforms over the past two decades.) Web3 is a vision of the Internet free from the control of corporate gatekeepers and government regulators.
Like many others in Silicon Valley, it is difficult to determine exactly what the Web3 “really” or how it would work, as it is more of a grand vision than a specific proposal or technology. Of course, that’s not stopping venture capitalists from pouring billions of dollars into the idea.
Do we really want an unregulated Internet?
Probably not. Many cryptocurrency activities, for example, look a lot like evading financial regulation (i.e. money laundering). And while decentralization can help break corporate control over our lives and protect us from government censorship, it’s not necessarily a panacea. We know that white supremacists, for example, have relied on peer-to-peer messaging networks to continue organizing out of the public eye.
Should the left support a decentralized internet?
We should at least want a more democratic Internet. According to the Pew Research Center, 93% of US adults use the Internet, so the question of who mediates these interactions matters. We need net neutrality and regulation (or nationalization!) of big tech companies and service providers, and open source platforms to provide alternatives in the meantime. But these are political challenges more than technological ones – and, as usual, it’s better not to rush to buy what Silicon Valley is selling.