Protecting digital sovereignty on the road to Web 3.0

Does the creation of a transparent and decentralized Web 3.0 come at the cost of digital sovereignty?
5 December 2018

Inventor and founder of World Wide Web Sir Tim Berners-Lee delivers an address to IBM Lotusphere 2012 conference. Source: Shutterstock

Businesses of all sizes have come a long way since the arrival of the internet back in the nineties. As the super information highway began to evolve, many highlighted how the opportunities that it was creating had strong parallels with the Californian Gold Rush.

The somewhat primitive days of Web 1.0 consisted of static websites connected by hyperlinks. When we replaced the sweet sound of a dial-up modem connecting to the internet with high-speed ADSL and cable connections, we quickly embraced a new Web 2.0 era of social media, interaction, and collaboration.

Here in 2018, there appears to be an increased awareness of the effects of online echo chambers. Could data from our online activity be used to manipulate public opinion in elections and national referendums? And are we just beginning to learn the real cost of our digital footprint?

There is a realization that Web 3.0 will need to deliver greater trust and transparency if the web can evolve in a positive manner. Nations such as France also recognize that they have become too reliant on Silicon Valley and are growing increasingly frustrated with the way in which many tech giants remove jobs and avoid taxation. France is one nation that is making a stand by introducing measures to protect its digital sovereignty.

How did we get here?

The first concerns were highlighted by American whistleblower, Edward Snowden back in 2013. The revelation that data stored on private company clouds was being spied on by the NSA served as a huge wake-up call for political leaders.  Concerns quickly followed that nations such as France and indeed the entire European Union were in danger of becoming “digital colonies”.

The Cambridge Analytica saga also added fuel to the fire and was beginning to create a new narrative around online privacy and security. Facebook went on to be accused of inflating its video ad metrics by up to 900 percent, and it was clear there was increasing distrust in tech behemoths that have been safeguarding our information.

Meanwhile, Australia, New Zealand, and the US have all banned Huawei 5G gear on security grounds of the Chinese equipment being labeled as a significant network security risk. Are we entering a new era of digital paranoia? Or are nations merely protecting their local carriers and tech businesses?

Protecting digital sovereignty

The protection of a nation’s digital sovereignty is a topic that is becoming a big talking point. Last month, the French government revealed the first steps of eradicating the influence of Google and its personalized services by replacing the Google search engine. French bodies will be using an alternative French-based search engine called Qwant that protects its users from being tracked or being targeted by advertising.

Recent headlines suggest that France, Australia, New Zealand, China, and the US are all united in challenging the dominance of tech companies online. Protecting the privacy and security or every individual online is essential. But there are also unattractive elements of protectionism and nationalism that are once again beginning to surface.

In a digital world, it’s easy to see why France does not want to rely on Silicon Valley for its digital services. There is an argument that all nations should have done more to protect their data sovereignty by investing in their own infrastructure and providing local digital services much sooner.

It’s also true that Google’s services hold vast amounts of data such as location, the apps that we use, and our online search history. This forms a data footprint of politicians, foreign intelligence agents and members of the military. The worrying factor is that it has created one single point of failure that an adversary needs access to obtain sensitive information.

There is an inconvenient truth that if you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer at all— you’re the product being sold. The ramifications of the French government using their own search engine could quickly force Google to charge for the use of its applications.

Why didn’t we see this coming?

Tim Berners-Lee who invented the World Wide Web as we know it in 1989, warned of the inevitable security and privacy concerns that were heading our way in 1996, but nobody listened. As a result, some are looking at old ways of fixing new problems.

In a world where we can seamlessly collaborate with each other, building virtual walls will feel like a step backward for many. Equally, standing up for the digital dominance of an entire nation can be challenging when its citizens are accustomed to getting all online services free of charge.

However, the reality is that you cannot solve future problems with a legacy mindset or technology. As the internet has evolved, there is an argument that we have just outgrown the old way of doing things. Our immediate future is waiting on the other side of the digital transformation of everything and will ensure that Web 3.0 is more than just a buzzword.

The concept of large, centralized services controlling email services, search engines, and social media has created a few problems. But equally, governments exercising control over the internet and global companies by locking down their digital borders could quickly enter the realms of censorship too.

The road to Web 3.0

The truth is that a nation choosing a different browser will not solve complex technological problems. But thankfully, we are beginning to see the few steps towards a decentralized Web 3.0 that could eradicate our privacy concerns once and for all.

The emergence of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) is creating the next logical steps forward towards making Web 3.0 a reality. The evolution of the internet is taking us to a smarter web that will alter how we gather, exchange and analyze data. Finally, data encryption and blockchain distributed ledger technologies are ushering in a new era of trust and transparency.

As the blockchain ecosystem continues to mature, we can expect these themes to dominate conversations and future business strategies. Rather than hiding behind virtual walls, we need to embrace the possibility of a decentralized borderless internet if we are serious about solving the problems that we unwittingly creatd.