“The original idea of the world wide web was that it should be a collaborative space where you can communicate through sharing information." — Tim Berners-Lee
“The more we can organize, find and manage information, the more effectively we can function in our modern world." — Vint Cerf
The quotations that this article opens with are from two of the founding fathers of the internet. If Tim Berners-Lee’s statement captures the functional intent of the internet revolution, then Vint Cerf’s captures its ethical intent. Namely, that the sharing of information in and of itself is conducive for a more functional society.
To a large extent, this mission has been proven successful. In 2011, Mckinsey estimated that the internet economy was worth $8 trillion, employed over 200 million people and accounted for 21% of economic growth for the world’s largest economies over the previous 5 years. Since then, it has come to be so important to every industry that it is difficult to quantify its impact.
However, whilst it is hard to doubt the economic impact that the internet has achieved through this opening of information, it has birthed a new problem for society to grapple with. With all of this information now available, how do we know which information we can trust?
The mechanisms that exist for evaluating the validity of information have failed to keep up with rapid technological advancement.
Recent research from MIT has shown that fake news is 70% more likely to be shared than real news. Not only has knowing who to trust when receiving information become a big problem, but so is knowing who to trust when giving information. Individuals trust their personal information with any number of companies, but even the biggest and, previously, most trusted brands are failing them. This has become clear from incidents ranging from Facebook failing to protect data from unauthorised third-parties, to Google gathering information that they weren’t authorised to gather, to Equifax allowing the sensitive data of over 149 million people to be stolen.
Beyond the unauthorised use of sensitive data, personal information is being increasingly used as a weapon against those providing it. Increasingly, credit rating companies are looking for ways to use personal data on social media profiles to impact a person’s credit score, and data-based insurance models risk creating a new class of “uninsurables." Although governments have developed regulations like GDPR, there are many loopholes that allow companies to use personal data as long as it falls under “legitimate business interest,” and there is no recourse for an individual to be compensated as a result of an information breach.
At the root of all of these problems is the centralization of data management and control. Control of personal information is concentrated amongst a small number of big players such as social media platforms, search engine providers, governments, banks, payment providers, insurance providers and other corporations. Until recently this has been a necessary evil. In the absence of trustless systems for sharing information, having large centrally-owned databases controlled by third parties was the only way to ensure the security of information that is transferred between two parties. However, the interests of these centralised third-parties often conflicts with the interests of the individuals providing data to them. As a result, the above examples demonstrate that the model of using centralised third-parties to assure trust in information transfer has failed.
However, with the advent of blockchain technology, it is beneficial to implement a distributed system as a solution. The Bitcoin whitepaper written by Satoshi Nakamoto promised “an electronic payment system based on cryptographic proof instead of trust, allowing any two willing parties to transact directly with each other without the need for a trusted third party.” The advent of Ethereum and smart contracts allowed for not only payments, but any kind of transaction to be actioned using cryptographic proof instead of a trusted third party.
The crisis of trust around information assurance that is detailed in this article provides a strong basis for believing that the transfer of information is a prime use case for blockchain’s ability to remove the need for trusted third parties. As we have seen, when it comes to information transfer, the “trusted” third parties we have been relying on have not been able to effectively facilitate trust because of the lack of security.
The IAP Network proposes a solution where the transfer of information can be verified and trust is assured via a blockchain-based system driven by smart contracts. Just as Bitcoin allows money to be transferred between two parties in a trusted manner without the need for a third party, the IAP will allow the same for the assurance of information in a way that promotes trust automatically. In doing so, applications can (for example) allow users to exercise individual control over how their data is used and have a transparent view of what information is being shared when. Meanwhile, businesses will have a more cost-effective means of verifying that they are complying with regulations and best-practices around collecting, sharing and securing information. To read more details on how the IAP Network will enable this and much more, you can read our Whitepaper here.
This article started with quotations from two pioneers from the past and we will finish it with a quotation from someone looking toward the future. The futurologist John Naisbitt said, “The new source of power is not money in the hands of a few, but information in the hands of many.” We believe that having a decentralised platform dedicated to the trust-less sharing of information will be a key part of ensuring that the “many” are the billions of people around the world, rather than the corporations that currently seek to control the information we have access to. We hope that IAP can play a vital role in this shift.