ON THE CMO AGENDA — WEB 3.0: WHY A PRIVACY-CENTRIC WEB WILL BE THE FUTURE OF THE INTERNET
Published on February 08, 2021
When we look at the internet today, it might be strange — uncanny, even — to imagine that what was once home to static information dumps has now evolved to an ecosystem of interactive user experiences. The present era of the internet, characterised as Web 2.0, has given rise to innovations such as e-commerce, social media, and countless other platforms, becoming an essential part of our existence, adding convenience to our lives, and fostering the collection of the world’s knowledge.
But with increased scrutiny around data privacy, surveillance capitalism, hacks and breaches of trust, it’s clear that Web 2.0 has developed some inherent flaws. However, a new wave of networking technologies — built on the premise of a lack of centralised control and censorship resistance — Web 3.0 promises to return the internet to the hands of users. Leveraging peer-to-peer technology such as blockchain to build services that seek to protect users rather than profit from them, we’re now only on the precipice of the next phase of internet services — one that is more decentralised, privacy-oriented and perhaps most importantly, puts its users first.
Ultimately, the arrival of Web 3.0 will disrupt existing business practices and alter the relationship between brands and consumers, adding to the challenges — as well as the opportunities — of the modern marketer’s remit.
The Dominance of Tech Titans
As the old saying goes: “on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”. Once heralded as the beacon of anonymity, today’s online experience would beg to differ. In fact, not only do they know you’re a dog, they also know your breed, your favourite kibble, and whether you’ve been microchipped — and on most occasions, it’s because you told them (even if you might not remember you did). By maximising the commoditisation of data, tech company titans rose to power over the past decade, consolidating the swathes of information they’ve amassed and building walls around their operations to guard their dominance. Over time, this has inevitably shaped the digital marketing landscape as we know it today.
In order to stay ahead, brands and advertisers have relied on these walled gardens for access to their lucrative ecosystems of service offerings and data. Yet, despite the access they offer, walled gardens are notoriously opaque, providing marketers with inadequate metrics and measurement tools to evaluate their campaign performance. This can be attributed to the fact that they have complete control over audience data, making it impossible for brands and marketers to utilise it for their own analyses. Even so, the reality that more than two-thirds of all US digital ad spend still went to Google, Facebook, and Amazon is indicative of the amount of power and influence these centralised powers hold.
Putting Privacy First
Yet, in spite of their power, tech giants have been far from infallible. The proliferation of data breaches on social platforms and online services has led to consumers becoming more concerned about the way their data is being used by companies and governments. This demand for more privacy and control of their own data has led governments to enact new regulations to safeguard consumer data. With mistrust in tech at an all-time high, users are now becoming more intentional about what types of data they’re willing to share — and with whom. Last year, a McKinsey survey even found that 71 percent of respondents would stop doing business with a company if it gave away sensitive user information without their permission.
Fortunately, thanks to technological breakthroughs in areas such as blockchain, virtual reality, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, the good news is that we now have the ability to create a digital ecosystem that is more secure, open, and personalised. As a form of distributed ledger technology, blockchain can help us square the circle between online privacy and transparency, allowing society to access the collective benefits of big data while preserving the privacy and rights of consumers.
Differential privacy is one such technique that can enable secure data analytics — algorithms add statistical noise by inserting random data into an original data set at the collection stage to mask the individual data points before they are further anonymised on a server. Combined with federated learning, which removes the need to pool data into a single location by decentralising machine learning, this means that personal data always remains in local storage, never leaving the device from which it originates. By employing such privacy-preserving techniques to data collection, companies can protect their users’ anonymity while accessing approximate data sets that they can use to inform their marketing and operations.
The Third-Generation Web: Taking Back Control
If Web 2.0 is characterised by user-generated content, data-driven platforms, and rich user experiences, then the next generation of the web will take it even further. With increased information connectivity and a deep integration between virtual technologies and the real world, Web 3.0 could potentially create a new, hybrid space for brands and marketers to engage with their consumers. While the full extent of it still remains undefined, privacy-preserving technologies can be leveraged to build a decentralised infrastructure that not only protects user privacy but puts them in the driver’s seat.
In a decentralised web, user data will no longer be controlled by tech giants and central authorities. Instead, individuals will have the opportunity to monetise their private data, rather than simply handing over the value of their personal information to third-party platforms as they do today. When that happens, companies will need to rethink their operating models — protecting, not exploiting, users and their privacy, in order to succeed. By giving ownership of data back to the user, Web 3.0 can unseat the oligopoly and make the internet great again.