The recent security issues and growing privacy concerns are seeing many users look for Facebook alternatives. Meanwhile, the list of uses of blockchain grows ever longer. So is there a blockchain solution for social media?
Facebook itself has been looking into blockchain, putting some of its best into a research group on the technology, including David Marcus, who developed Messenger and Kevin Weil and James Everingham, Instagram executives.
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But while blockchain is decentralised and has data stored across a network of computers, Facebook owns its infrastructure and two billion global users’ data. So it is unclear how the social media giant would utilise the technology, although it is possible that Facebook is just researching the competition or protecting its monopoly.
“It is obvious Facebook is in all sorts of trouble and they are not alone. Ongoing hacks, new data privacy laws, and recent politics have put centralised social and media platforms under the spotlight,” comments Ken Brook, CEO and founder of digital advertising blockchain solutions provider MetaX.
“This has also sparked the conversation around utilizing blockchain as a potential solution. Blockchain and cryptocurrencies allow us to reimagine the way value is created and shared across the internet.
“A new, decentralised version of Facebook could have an incentive model that rewards the community of users fairly for their engagement while securing first-party data. We know that internet giants like Facebook, valued at close to $500bn, make almost all their revenues from advertising so there’s a strong incentive for companies like Facebook to offer free services while harvesting and selling user data.
“Users rely on these companies to protect their private data, but one thing is clear, nothing is private anymore and blockchain technology could be a more sustainable way to connect to people online.”
Facebook alternatives that use blockchain
While Facebook ponders the technology, there is also an emerging class of blockchain-based social media platforms. Prominent examples that have already been developed are Minds, Memo, Sola and Steemit.
Steemit reports 61,000 daily users and has been described as a marriage between Medium, a blog host, and Reddit, a discussion website. On Steemit, a post and upvote is rewarded with a tiny amount of cryptocurrency.
However, the platform also reveals a compromise to using blockchain. Steemit makes clear on its FAQs is that an account cannot be deactivated or deleted, because accounts and all their actions are permanently stored in the blockchain. There are other restrictions, such as having to pay a third-party if you want to change your account name and each user only being able to create one account through Steemit.
Blockchain does have its benefits for social media, particularly in terms of verifying identities, information and data. This aids in freeing a social media platform from false accounts that post fake news. But there is a question of whether blockchain can deliver on a scale that could replace established platforms such as Facebook.
A SOLID alternative with no blockchain
Another alternative to Facebook, one that does not use blockchain, is the pair of social media apps set in competition to each other called Patter and NotPatter. They are being built to run on a “fully autonomous network for the decentralised web called the SAFE Network”, “to test the concept of users being in control of their data, rather than the social media service providers”.
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Dug Campbell, head of marketing and outreach at Maidsafe, the company behind the SAFE Network, calls it “a decentralised, private, secure internet – using data structured according to SOLID, Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s linked data project.”
He explained the current problem and its solution to Verdict:
“Many people today use social media platforms to keep in touch with friends and family. But these are platform advertising businesses that survive by giving third-party companies the chance to target their adverts more precisely. That means two things: one – they can’t let you take your data; and two – the platforms are designed with the overriding goal of maximising advertising revenue.
“Sharing information shouldn’t require us to pay a cost in terms of privacy. New decentralised technologies provide the promise of ensuring that users can move between platforms without having their data siloed and kept behind barriers built by the dominant technology platforms. What we really need is an internet in which all of your information is private and secure by default. You then choose your social circle and content that you want to engage in – but at no stage are you locked into that platform.”
The Patter apps, he says, allow users to, “simply close your Facebook account, and within 10 seconds join a competing social platform… where the very first time that you open it up, you can see all of that data that you were using before – friends, likes, messages, interactions – the lot.”
Making the case for a non-blockchain solution
Campbell argues that while beneficial, blockchain is not right for social media.
“We do not dispute that the blockchain can be valuable as an immutable ledger for transactions. But it’s not the right platform to protect vast quantities of data, especially the type of sensitive personal data you find on social networks,” he says.
“Data isn’t encrypted by default on blockchains – in fact, the opposite is required as the whole point is that the record of transactions can be read by anyone. And a blockchain still can’t scale to capture every single transaction (a like, retweet, and so on) if it has any aspirations of being a global platform.
“So if you’re storing the data elsewhere and merely using the blockchain to record the proof that data existed at some point in time, you’re rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic – your personal data is still being stored in a centralised location somewhere around the world and liable to be attacked.
“How does that solve security and privacy? It’s exactly the same problem that we see with today’s world wide web. The network needs to be completely decentralised and autonomous. True decentralisation requires the data to be encrypted then scattered around the network and broken up into fragments. Remove the fixed data targets for hackers and remove the fallibility of humans from the equation. Let the autonomous network itself decide how resources are allocated and ensure that the network is secured.”
The world is fully dependent on social media, a global habit often debated for its merits and failures. Facebook and the rest of the social media giants offer accessibility as well as familiarity. But the failure of big social media platforms to protect user data is becoming more and more obvious.
A blockchain alternative or another solution might already exist, but users need convincing it is not only a viable solution but a friendly one.