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There has been a fundamental shift in the source of value within our economy.
In previous models, the source was labor. In current knowledge economies, it is attention and the ability to act. This new model is why Web2 companies value personal data so highly — with knowledge comes understanding, then comes prediction, then action. By understanding the consumer, companies can advertise and can get customers to act.
And make no mistake, customers are in a state of constant targeted marketing if they use Web2.
Social media, apps and even browsers are constantly gathering data to influence decisions. Every web search, every social media post, every email is mined to gather data points. Since so much of our lives have moved to the digital world, there are now endless possibilities for data collection. Algorithms can map likes, dislikes, values, and more to create complete virtual profiles, which are then sold to third-party data brokers. These companies often operate in a regulatory gray area, and they make it difficult to opt out.
Data, identity and the ‘why’ of consumer behavior
The implications of this are enormous. This virtual identity, or profile, isn’t composed of the old standard data points. It goes beyond who you are as a consumer — it defines who you are as a person. It doesn’t just define what you do, it’s able to quantify why you do what you do.
And in turn? A large portion of so-called free will can be bought by the highest bidder. Advertisers can pay directly for the behavioral effect they seek because they can now measure the results. Tim O’Reilly was right about the fact that we’ve solved the Wanamaker Problem: The old adage that half your marketing is wasted; you just don’t know which half. But we haven’t dealt with the natural corollary: the better marketing gets, the less autonomy we each seem to have.
It paints a very dystopian picture. In a previous article, I discussed how whoever owns your data owns your decisions, and this is why. In a digital world, your data is you, it is your domain online. Web2 actively limits our choices by strategically limiting our options; Cambridge Analytica was not the first and will not be the last company to exploit these new-found data powers.
It’s a complex problem that all leads back to the incentive structure of Web2. We have built a digital world around “you as a product.” All of the free, cheap, and convenient applications we have grown to depend on are the perfect example of this in action. These apps have permeated every aspect of our lives, from work to socialization — and the companies behind them know that. They have no incentive to change existing systems.
Greater identity control
Solving these problems, and others, is the driving force behind Web3. In a user-owned Web3, you own your data. You can control who sees it and what is done with it, but more importantly, there’s the potential for you to start to have better control over the algorithms and better ensure that your private data is actually private, accessible only by you, whether it’s emails, DMs or stored files.
It starts with decentralized identities, or self-sovereign identities (SSIs). In current web models, our digital identities are owned by our devices and/or third-party apps. This makes it hard to manage our data because it’s being used and mined by so many different sources. With decentralized identities, our digital identity lives in our wallet, a single source, and users control who sees what.
For example, when we sign up for anything on the web, we have to create an account. This is true for everything, whether you’re signing up for a mailing list or making a purchase. Every time you sign up for a new account, you have to provide personal data to confirm identity. In the US, the average email address is associated with 130 accounts. There is no way to keep track of your data when it is spread out like this. With decentralized identities, you’re able to control the outflow of information. By utilizing decentralized identities in wallets, users can ensure that the only relevant information is shared and used for authentication purposes only.
Underneath these decentralized identities (and they can be any name and don’t need to be linked to the physical you unless needed) we can build a world of decentralized content and data that runs as the foundational layer of Web3. Whether a messaging app, a project management tool, the next Instagram or the next Yelp, the content can be owned by the users, and the algorithms can have a better chance of working for users rather than advertisers. You can start with a free “human” domain at https://hmn.domains and start building your digital kingdom.
Eventually, apps and advertisers will have to work for you.
Leonard Kish is cofounder of Cortex App.