It’s time to fight the dominance of internet giants. Various regulations have been announced in Europe aimed at forcing these giants to respect healthier rules of the game and better protect user rights and competition. Some even threaten to dismantle some of the tech giants, a weapon of mass destruction seldom used in history.
Is there an alternative way to a truly decentralized Internet?
A handful of companies hold a virtual monopoly on the Internet in critical areas of services (search engines, e-mail, etc.), infrastructures (global transit, content distribution networks, cloud computing services, etc.) and in some cases even Internet standardization (IETF, ICANN / IANA, W3C etc.). The equation is unprecedented, and its position has become virtually impenetrable.
The now famous “network effect” explains the genesis of the current dominance: the bigger a web player is, the bigger it becomes. The more users it has, the more interesting it becomes for subsequent users to join that player and not another. The services offered are all the more attractive because they appear “free”, but they come at the cost of commodifying (and sometimes invading) user privacy.
Connected: The data economy is a dystopian nightmare
The internet giants have also invested heavily in their own “pipelines” (especially submarine cables) in order to bring their content as close as possible to the user. Five years ago, these “priority access paths” accounted for 25% of global web traffic. Today they make up 64%.
This is reflected in the service quality of the Internet giants: a significantly reduced latency compared to their (potential) competitors. Let’s think of a platform that wants to compete with YouTube or Netflix, but with a loading time that is 10 times longer.
Ultimately, we have all become dependent on a small group of all-powerful service providers.
The decentralization of the internet has become a holy grail, and several projects have sprung up to address this challenge (e.g. Filecoin, ThreeFold, Solid, and Dfinity).
These projects usually have the same goals:
- “Distribute” the cloud and offer an alternative to hyper-concentrated data centers and centralized cloud providers.
- To ensure better protection of user privacy and “data sovereignty”.
- Enable the delivery of applications with quality and scalability similar to that of the Internet.
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The technical challenge is immense, as is the massive acceptance of the services from GAFA, an acronym that stands for Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.
However, the means of achieving these goals differ from project to project.
Solid is a specification that allows users to securely store their data in decentralized data stores called pods. Pods are secure, personal web servers for data. When data is stored in a person’s pod, it controls which people and applications can access it. The user can get a pod from select pod providers (some are hosted by Amazon) or the user can host a pod themselves to be more autonomous.
Dfinity proposes the Internet Computer Protocol (ICP), which describes the project as “extending the Internet to include serverless cloud functionality, which enables secure software and a new type of open Internet services”. This ICP is provided by a global network of independent data centers.
ThreeFold uses a peer-to-peer (P2P) network, which is formed by a global network of independent farmers. What sets ThreeFold apart from the other serverless clouds is that they started from scratch and built a new infrastructure from the ground up. The main advantages of the triple grid are:
- Privacy: A P2P environment means no middlemen or intermediaries – data is transferred directly between people and stored on the nodes of their choice rather than being sent and stored by third parties.
- Security: Data stored in data centers is susceptible to security breaches. By bypassing data centers and exchanging data directly between peers, greater security can be achieved, as code and back doors are significantly reduced.
- Scalability: In a many-to-many system, the scalability is essentially unlimited. Hardware (nodes) can be easily added by anyone in any home or office, which is not the case with the current data center model.
- Cost efficiency and sustainability: End-to-end (direct) connection between peers means that the system defines the most efficient path for data. This leads to significantly more energy and cost efficiency compared to the centralized data center model.
In both projects, users have to buy utility tokens that act as “gas” to reserve sovereign capacities and store data.
The Internet of Universal Resources
The next stage could be an actual merging of the existing Internet protocol (TCP / IP) with blockchain technology. The result would be an Internet that can not only transport data packets but also services in a decentralized manner. This “merger” would promote a more open, resilient and plural Internet capable of providing essential services such as information search, decentralized domain name management, digital identity, electronic messaging, data storage, computing power (artificial intelligence), confidentiality, traceability and electronic signature.
These services have become universal resources of the Internet and as such should be natively provided by the network and managed as commons.
From a technical point of view, the challenge is to combine the functionality of data packet transport (TCP / IP) with a certain “intelligence” that enables packets to encapsulate a service marker. This service marker is read and interpreted by all components of the network infrastructure (routers, switches, servers).
Services – universal or critical – are brought back to the protocol level of the Internet. In fact, the packet (routed according to the rules of the protocol) “enables” access to these services from a dedicated node or server.
This node is part of a decentralized network of nodes. The operators of these nodes can either be existing Internet service providers, specialized companies (software manufacturers, data centers, etc.) or authorities. Ownership of these nodes could also be hybrid and shared between these different actors.
The Belgian foundation for public utilities IOUR Foundation promotes this type of approach and presents a number of protocols that bring the native services to the lower level of the internet. A proposal like this has profound implications for the physiognomy of the Internet, in particular: decentralized governance, interoperability of services, native traceability and confidentiality.
A decentralized, native search engine
No internet service is more focused than the search engine (both 63% of all search queries and 94% of all search traffic on mobile devices and tablets come from Google).
This essential function can be provided by the Internet network (via its extended protocol), which would lead to a more objective, more complete and more privacy-friendly search engine, since all search data would be stored decentrally by the network and no longer centralized on private servers. In addition, users can choose whether or not to anonymize their search.
Bundling of forces
It is really important to encourage active collaboration and complementarity between all of the above projects (and others) that share the same goals.
Synergies are not only possible, they are obvious. The ThreeFold Grid, for example, can add tangible added value to Dfinity or Solid and similar projects if they want to benefit from a really decentralized and sovereign infrastructure instead of relying on current data center models. The future IOUR infrastructure could – and should – use such a grid to provide the nodes that are necessary to enable the Internet to provide “native” services.
Working together is vital in the new world we are trying to build.
This article does not provide investment advice or recommendations. Every step of investing and trading involves risk, and readers should do their own research when making a decision.
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Thibault Verbiest, a lawyer in Paris and Brussels since 1993, is a partner at Metalaw, where he heads the Fintech, Digital Banking and Crypto Finance department. He is the co-author of several books, including the first book on blockchain in French. He acts as an expert at the European Blockchain Observatory and Forum and the World Bank. Thibault is also an entrepreneur as he co-founded CopyrightCoins and Parabolic Digital. In 2020 he became chairman of the IOUR Foundation, a non-profit foundation with the aim of promoting the introduction of a new internet that brings together TCP / IP and blockchain.