Why is a Centralized Internet a Bad Idea?
#Why is a Centralized Internet a Bad Idea?
The Internet was not meant to look like we know it today. Originally, it was much more decentralized. The inventor of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee did not intend to have a few tech company giants controlling all our data.
How did we get to this point and why is centralized Internet bad?
Let’s explore how the Internet became centralized (or how we allowed Google, Facebook and other big tech companies to control our data) and what we, as netizens, can do about it.
#From Decentralized to Centralized: How the Internet Became Like This?
The Internet traces its origins to the ARPANET network, which was initially created in the 1960s to connect academic and military networks in the United States. However, widespread use was not really possible until much later, in the 1990s, when Tim Berners-Lee built five crucial tools for the web:
- Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP)
- Hyper-Text Markup Language (HTML)
- The first web browser
- The first HTTP server software
- And the first web page
Back then, the Internet was a bit of a wild west. Anyone could publish anything and you didn’t have to rely on a single company or service to do anything.
However, soon this became too chaotic and most users started looking for what looked like a more organized Internet. This allowed companies like Google and Facebook to start dominating vital Internet services like email, search and social media by getting more and more control over users’ data.
Soon, this data control became so big that, if you ran a company and wanted to have a presence online, you had to play by their rules. Otherwise, your content stood no chance of being discovered.
#What’s Wrong with the Centralized Internet?
No doubt that, for an average Internet user, the Internet as it is today is perfect. Google, in particular, with its many interconnected services such as email, search engine, calendar, drive storage, etc. has made it all incredibly convenient and easy to use.
That said, there are many more flaws to the centralized Internet than there are for a decentralized one.
We’ll name just the biggest 3.
#1. Single Point of Failure
What would happen to your data if Google suddenly stopped working?
This seems highly unlikely from our perspective today, but is it impossible?
For example, Google officially left Russia after the government there had frozen its bank account.
Google had issued a statement about the situation:
“The Russian authorities’ seizure of Google Russia’s bank account has made it untenable for our Russia office to function, including employing and paying Russia-based employees, paying suppliers and vendors, and meeting other financial obligations.”
Up until that point, Google was the second largest search engine by market share in the Russian Federation, behind YANDEX with 47.23% market share versus YANDEX’s 50.18% in April 2022, according to figures by StatCounter.
At the same time, when it came to search engine traffic distribution, in Q1, 2022, Google was also second with 37.79%, behind YANDEX with 60.98%, according to Statista.
#2. Single Source of Information
The centralized Internet doesn’t just give you a single point of failure, but also a single source of information.
We believe that we are much better informed today than our fathers and mothers or our grandparents before them thanks to the Internet. But if you have to use Google to search for information and then rely on whatever they deem fitting to be on the top (which will always be some large website), how much of a choice there you really got?
In fact, according to estimates, Google handles around 8 billion searchesevery day and 77% of users check Google at least 3 times per day to search online.
The bottom line is this - if you have a question, Google will pick an answer for you.
And that answer may not always be accurate.
For instance, in 2017, Google News cited fake news from a popular imageboard site 4chan in relation to a shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival In Las Vegas, Nevada.
Namely, six 4chan threads “identified” the shooter as Geary Danley and Google picked this as “Top Stories”, when the real shooter was a man named Stephen Paddock.
And that wasn’t even the end of it. Two trending stories regarding the shooting on Facebook came from the Russian government news agency “Sputnik”, which falsely claimed that the FBI had linked the shooter to a terrorist organization.
Another situation that showed that Google shouldn’t always be trusted could be found in its featured snippet.
If you’re unaware of what a “featured snippet” is, it is basically a highlighted excerpt from a text at the top of Google’s search results page. In other words, this is “Position 0”.
Technically, this position is reserved for the most accurate information on Google on a certain topic, but that’s not always the case.
In 2017, for instance, if you googled “presidents in the klan”, you would get this result in your featured snippet:
Then, another search, this one for “presidents in the Ku Klux Klan”, served a slightly different featured snippet, with some different names:
Of course, there is zero evidence that any of these presidents were ever in the KKK, but this only shows that Google search can be manipulated to spread false information.
The reason for this is that Google uses several different signals to determine what will end up on top of its search results. In the case of the Las Vegas 2017 shooting, the fact that there were very few searches for Danley's name meant that Google News would pick this news as “fresh” and put it under “Top Stories”.
A statement from Google explains what went wrong here:
“We use a number of signals to determine the ranking of results - this includes both the authoritativeness of a site as well as how fresh it is. We’re constantly working to improve the balance and, in this case, did not get it right.”
#3. Who Owns Your Data?
Finally, we get to the biggest issue of centralized Internet and that is security and privacy.
If all your data is saved in a data center that is controlled by Google or another big tech company, can you say that you “own” your sensitive data?
This problem is two-pronged.
On one hand, there is nothing stopping Google, for instance, to deny you access to your own data. Since the data is stored in the data centers that they own and control, they can, technically, do just that and you wouldn’t have much say in the matter.
On the other hand, and this one is connected to a single point of failure that we mentioned earlier, having data from billions of users stored in one place will naturally attract bad actors like state-sponsored hackers, with the idea of stealing personal information from so many users.
In a way, we’ve come full circle when the Internet is in question. In the early days of the net, there was very little order and even fewer rules. Everyone could post anything and things didn’t always run smoothly.
Over time, however, everything started becoming siloed through a handful of big players, including most importantly, our own data.
Well, it’s time to get your data back and decentralized Internet, using blockchain technology, looks to be the solution we’ve been waiting for so long.