The digital ecosystem is fuelled by the creation, storage and transmission of data between servers, computers and mobile devices around the globe. This intangible plane is growing exponentially, with over 2.5 million terabytes of data being produced on a daily basis. It’s often said that over 90% of the data circulating today was created in the past two years. I believe there’s a pressing need to address the value of the currency of the digital realm.
Once individuals begin attaching value to the information they generate, we can start to fundamentally reassess how we’ve been viewing data, and consider the steps needed to move forward. Evidently, as countless data breaches have shown in recent times, there’s a desperate need to redefine ownership. Whilst a platform like Facebook may lead an individual to believe that they retain control over their own data, there’s nothing by way of proof to suggest that, once a user chooses to delete a given piece of information, that it isn’t stored indefinitely by the company. Individuals are only just beginning to realise this, but companies have known it for a long time: the bulk selling of user data is profitable, and provides a stream of revenue for businesses.
The technology to break away from this model may not have been there when these practices were cemented, but it’s here now. Blockchain was conceived as a means to eradicate third-party custody of money and remove it from the hands of institutions. By taking these principles and building them around data, we can ensure that the individual who producers the data is in complete control.
One can envision some of the applications that could be built on top of blockchain protocols. Users will finally have granular control over permissions associated with their data, able to grant or revoke access as they see fit.
This could be the saving grace that we need. Few problems are as pressing in the digital space as that of data protection. The data breach phenomenon is a prime example of just how rare perfect security is on networked devices. Many will remember the staggering three billion accounts compromised at Yahoo. Unfortunately, this was by no means an isolated incident, and even companies thought to be ‘too big to fail’ have been breached – seemingly, on a weekly basis at this rate. These are far from victimless crimes. Malicious actors have sold compromised information to fraudsters, hackers and parties seeking to blackmail or otherwise harm individuals.
Another issue widely seen along centralised platforms is censorship. It’s trivial for a provider or owner of a server or data center to shutdown activities as they see fit. By proxy, if a company can do this, a government can compel them to, too.
Immutability is a key component derived from blockchain principles – one can create a permanent record viewable to anyone, for as long as the last node in the network remains. There is no single owner or hierarchical structure that grants any one party permissions over another. It is this feature that makes decentralised systems so powerful, and ensures that anyone can access the ledger at any time.
The topology of distributed networks also lends itself very well to peer-to-peer interactions, without bottlenecks arising from a single entity routing all transfers on the network. This serves to increase scalability, ensuring the network never has any downtime, and further drives home the censorship-resistant features of such protocols.
We’re sorely in need of a radical new approach to how we deal with data. Instead of attempting to scale up an ineffective (not to mention flawed from a security standpoint) system, it’s perhaps time we embraced some of the concepts of decentralisation to store and exchange the onslaught of data being generated on a daily basis. Most importantly, blockchain principles would allow us to usher in a new iteration of data storage where individuals, and not corporations, retain complete control over their own data.