Dear Web2, we want our data back
I actually want to own my own data, my digital identity and my online reputation
Midjourney modified by Blockworks
Not long ago, Facebook launched the micro-blogging platform “Threads” — treading on the toes of X, formerly known as Twitter, owner Elon Musk and resulting in a literal cage fight set for an unspecified date.
However, before any punches are thrown (if ever), I’m more interested in looking at the roles that Web3 and decentralization could have for this new app.
When Zuckerberg launched Threads, he did something pretty novel; he went beyond the “shared accounts” feature offered by Meta that allows Facebook and Instagram logins with the same credentials. In a move seemingly ripped verbatim from the Web3 playbook, Threads users instead can carry over their usernames from Instagram, offering unprecedented interoperability.
Unfortunately, there’s still a disconnect from Web3.
Web2 apps will forever be obliged to trust that incoming data from associated apps is legitimate and accurate, something that they still can’t verify. Moreover, users still don’t own their own data, and given Meta’s track record when it comes to safeguarding user information, it’s unlikely that Threads will ever change that for its users.
Social media sites have realized that most people want uniformity across their socials. This could — and should — extend to the same verifiable credentials. At the very least, people want the same username within one ecosystem, for example in between Meta, Instagram, Facebook and Whatsapp. And if the users want it, then social media platforms want you to have the same name too; it benefits everyone.
When you sign in to a platform and you have the option to sign in with Google, Facebook or Apple, it’s your credentials that grant you access to these third-party sites. What if it was all tied together into one decentralized username or identity that is undeniably and verifiably yours?
One day it could be, but I’m not convinced the big players are developing in the right direction for a decentralized web.
Web3: The solution to portable identity
Web2 companies need to take a leap of faith and see Web3 as the solution.
Perhaps these companies don’t feel ready to tackle the data validation problem between applications, but the longer they ignore it, the better the chance is of rival developers generating a superior solution. I see the problem of digital identity as a slow-moving train headed for an inevitable station where blockchain and Web3 are ready and waiting to board.
The portable identity situation is ultimately an issue of trust and safety, especially when you examine the problem of misinformation. Whenever I hear conversations about phishing, impersonation, and digital fraud, I just think, “Wow, we really need a global digital identity and a set of standards that people can build on.” The improvements to the digital experience would be remarkable.
Read more from our opinion section: Congress takes a serious swing at crypto legislation
Coming from crypto and Web3, I can see how blockchain can easily verify data from different sources, but I also see that it’s not perfected yet. Blockchains need to get faster, cheaper, more prevalent and easier to integrate into existing Web2 businesses and their APIs. If they can do all of that, there will be a new future for online trust.
Fragmented & trapped: why Web3 can save our skin
Your digital reputation is fragmented and trapped on each platform. Each social media site is a walled garden, your data is kept in application siloes, and the app owners will do everything they can to keep you there. They especially don’t want you to try and take your data (your digital reputation) with you. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you name it, they are data aggregators, and that data is the extractable value that they monetize to keep the wheel spinning.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like it. I actually want to own my own data, my digital identity, and my online reputation. Then, I want to take it with me wherever I go. Web3 is going to do that for me, for us.
What could Threads and Facebook have done differently?
Threads connected directly to Instagram, allowing new users to start with a built-in network and avoid awkward first posts in an empty space. Simultaneously, Meta announced plans to work with the ActivityPub Protocol to create seamless connections and interactions with other sites. ActivityPub is already working, and some lesser-known social media sites — such as Mastodon, Pixelfed, PeerTube, Lemmy and Kbin — are using it to allow cross-platform interactions and communications, the result of which is called “The Fediverse.”
If Facebook, Instagram and Threads are supposedly next to join the “Fediverse,” it will show a significant change of direction. Connecting platforms and lowering the garden walls will force Meta to choose whether to give up centralization (and lose valuable data) or sacrifice user experience (and lose valuable users).
My verdict on shared identity
I believe there’s a better approach that Meta could have taken.
Your reputation in Web3 is surely best served by an identifier for your digital self. That identifier should also act as a self-sovereign data container that is 100% owned by you, that you can use for logins, verify ownership, make and receive payments and complete know-your-customer (KYC) checks.
Your followers, content and data should all be connected to you, not the platforms you use. Your digital self will be kept safely in your unique wallet, accessible only to you. Permission for others to engage with you will be 100% yours, and they will know that it’s 100% you that they’re engaging with.
Finally, your digital life will be tied into one identity. Not only will this provide more autonomy for users, but it could usher in a safer, more transparent and more connected internet.
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