WhatsApp decided to gather more data about us and created a short-lived outcry among our social groups. So, what is next?

What is going on?

We just had intense discussions among our social network groups for a week or so. Why? Our beloved messaging app WhatsApp has decided to change its TOS (terms of service) and threatened to end our service if not obliged by Feb 8th[^1].

Let’s not argue about the merits of this decision or which alternative app is better (or secure or…). That argument has already been settled: Our friends decided to stay at WhatsApp, whether we like it or not. But why?

Tell me more about the root cause…

Millions of reasons but the root cause is simple: We are all addicts. For what? Well, the technology but more specifically the platform itself. WhatsApp is ingrained in our skin, so much so that we come up with any and every excuse not to part ways with it.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Unlike other addictions tough, the worst part is, we are not fully aware of the potential harms. Even though there is some research on technology-dependency, general public awareness is still quite limited.

So what?

So what to expect in the near future? On a personal level, WhatsApp (and in that sense any app that we are addicted to) will stick its nose more into our lives day by day. They will analyze our data, observe our actions and manipulate our behavior. Why? To make profit out of us - and by the way, this is the most innocent excuse that one would come up with to decipher their intent. Let’s not get into further conspiracy theories and leave it like that.

On a global level, this will be another test for big techs vs nation states. The fact that the president of the United States, arguably the most powerful person in the world - who possesses the codes to start a nuclear war - deplatformed by Twitter is a clear sign of this test.

Even Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, concedes that big tech has too much power. Way too powerful against nation states and clearly against us, the individuals.

Do we have any hope?

So is there a cure here? Sure. But first, let’s identify the problem:

Clearly, the problem is power being pooled around few tech giants. So the cure would be to disseminate this power to others. So, divide them like they did to Standard Oil or Bell System back in the day[^2]? Not sure this would help. Tech is such a dynamic space - it should not take too long for one of those divided parts or even a new comer to grab power again.

I would argue a more radical solution: Distribute the power back to users. Great idea, you might say, but how?

Image by Oleg Mityukhin  from Pixabay

Well, crypto and DeFi have already shown a path: In DeFi, a user has full control over assets owned via an electronic wallet. All DeFi platforms are just tools to the mean, that is user investing own money without giving up the control.

The same would apply to social media: A fully decentralized digital identity would sort out most of the issues here. Fully controlled by the individual.

So, would you like to.. use your real name or just a pseudonym? or switch from one platform to the other in seconds? or move your history and connections to the new platform? All should be possible.

Or even a better solution: Own your identity, history, connections and keep it in a safe place (blockchain?). Give temporary access to platforms and reach your audience instantly and without any restriction. Having problems with a platform? Cut the cord and let another platform access your identity/history/connections. That easy.

All is possible, thanks to technology but mainly to blockchain and crypto. This is coming. Sooner than you would imagine…

[^1] With public pressure WhatsApp has decided to postpone cut-off date to May 2021.

[^2] US authorities have decided to break-up Standard Oil into 34 smaller companies 1911 and the telecom monopoly Bell into seven independent Baby Bells in 1984.

This piece is first published in BlockchainIST Center on Jan 21st, 2021. None of the views expressed in this article should be considered as investment advice