I'm not big on making personal declarations, but desperate times call for desperate measures. So, here goes ...
I'm not big on making personal declarations, but desperate times call for desperate measures. So, here goes ...
Written by Liz Louw on 19 February 2020
The Internet freed me from a cookie-cutter existence! Like millions of people throughout history, I was born into a culture that fits me like a scratchy jumper that shrunk in the wash.
Growing up in South Africa, I quickly worked through the local library’s collection of literature written in my mother tongue before starting to eye out the English language section. I hoped it might provide access to the bigger world I yearned for. By age ten, I’d had enough of pretending I understood the gist of the English books I paged through and convinced my parents to send me to an English language school. For all of the joys of having access to a second language, I was disappointed to find that cultural hegemony had gobbled up my entire hometown. Even creatives and the eternally curious were required to confine themselves to the cultural norms.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to complain, and I’m not going to bore you with any more details. I’m sure many of you resonate with my story.
When dial-up Internet reached our little neck of the woods, I was in my early teens. It would be a good four years before I’d catch my first flight to explore the Big Out There. But with the arrival of the World Wide Web, things had already started changing.
Online I could connect with people in countries that used to be only as real as the border outlines on a map. I found recipes of the exotic (read: American) dishes I’d read about, baking my way through from choc-chip cookies (the first website I visited was cookies(dot)com, not the same as today’s page) and eggnog (hideous failure!). And, as web content and platforms multiplied and morphed, I could fill my glut for information and creative possibilities.
Today, a good many years later, I’ve harnessed a great many of the benefits the Internet has to offer. Thanks to a decent fibre connection, I get to work remotely, a mere 8,129 miles from the Bitstocks’ headquarters. (Google Maps calculated the distance in a few seconds). Along with my coworkers (who originate from a multitude of cultural backgrounds) I research and write about one of the most groundbreaking industries in the world, the Bitcoin blockchain, in a job role that didn’t exist before the Internet came about.
Given all the freedom the Internet has given me, there’s a lot to be grateful for. And yet, it pains me to declare that the Golden Age of the world wide web’s advancement of humanity is over. No, worse: The Internet of 2020 has been turned into a tool that allows nefarious actors to undermine the interests of humanity.
“What is concerning is that increasingly framed as a lack of digital privacy... mass data harvesting and surveillance... is being so frequently thought of as an essential pay off for a digital world. No, it’s not necessary to allow yourself to be profiled this way, demand better.”
So as not to depress you too much, I’ll stick to a concise summary of the most prevalent abuses of the Internet right now. If you’d like to know more (and you can stomach it), I recommend you follow investigative journalists on Social Media. (Like it or not, the Internet is perhaps the best information resource we have access to. For now). I gathered much of the information below thanks to the resources shared and produced by propaganda researcher, Dr Emma Briant (You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn).
So, you tweak the privacy settings of your Social Media posts to keep Mum from asking awkward questions, and your employer from having a conniption over what you really got up to over the weekend.
While Social Media providers would like you to think they’re giving you complete control over your privacy by offering you post settings and regular ‘privacy checkups’, it’s merely a distraction to draw your attention away from the standard breaches of privacy - built into their business model.
Cambridge Analytica aside (‘cause really, it’s just the one they got caught for), have you ever gotten the feeling that Facebook is listening in on you, even when you’re NOT on Facebook? A newly released ‘Off-Facebook Activity’ tool confirms the app is indeed stalking you unless you (supposedly) toggle the well-hidden settings of the tracker.
Perhaps you’ve been brave enough to cut your Social Media strings? A recent Google gaffe proves you’d have to purge much deeper to get rid of the rot. In the latest of Google’s ‘technical errors’, Google Takeout, a platform that’s been pitched to users as a way to gain more control of their data, accidentally sent users’ private videos to strangers...
Google’s record boasts a litany of similar offences, including a 2009 Google docs bug that allowed unintended access to users’ private documents, and two settlements in 2012-13 over tracking consumers online without their knowledge (after bypassing privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser).
The matter of data leaks is, of course, the fall-out of a business model that profits from our personal data - and so they gather as much of our data as they possibly can. Yes, we are granted access to Social Media platforms, Search Engines, and discounted mobile devices “for free”, but as they say:
If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.
Take a look at the level of data that Amazon’s Kindle devices are syphoning from your activities:
Amazon appears to be tracking every tap on Kindle. I just got my data back and there are 90K rows of this pic.twitter.com/wVCSXCTVwv— Adrianne Jeffries (@adrjeffries) January 28, 2020
Although these data companies’ data collection policies all claim to be aimed at improving their services, make no mistake: their profits are improving simultaneously. In 2019, Google’s advertising revenue alone amounted to 134.81 billion US dollars, a whopping 84% of its total revenue! Google’s targeted advertising model hinges on their unfettered access to our data.
Data is BIG business, and it’s only getting bigger as global industry is evolving to a data-fueled mode: the Fourth Industrial Revolution. A world where Artificial Intelligence can compete with human intelligence may seem a long way off. Yet, we are already training devices and services, like Alexa and Siri, to perform human-like tasks. Corporations are racing each other to develop the products and services that will fuel the data-based economy. Although the data we emit today is the crucial resource to enable such R&D, we’ll be paying dearly to access the resulting tech in years to come.
While AI is very much the data-fueled tech of the future, the BIG data business of today is targeted advertising, and more alarmingly, propaganda.
Once we’ve let our Social Media connections in on our hopes and dreams, our fears and anxieties, advertisers set to work disseminating our data to calculate our psychological profile, hone in on our personal and collective triggers, and plan their approach for manipulating us towards their commercial or political agenda.
From October 2015: Cambridge Analytica proposal to work alongside The Herald Group, a DC-based consulting firm to collect voter data and implement a behaviourally-microtargeted ad campaign on behalf of The Herald Group's client, the NRA. Campaigns such as the NRA’s should make us sit up and pay close attention.
The first paragraph of the proposal document notes that Cambridge Analytica was not the only firm collecting voter data for the NRA.
It doesn’t matter if you’re pro-Trump, anti-Trump, for gun control, or against. Whether you’re pro- or anti- Brexit, it’s clear that it’s become common practise for political advertisers and interest groups to employ these tactics.
While Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg tried to downplay their platform’s involvement in political advertising by putting it at a mere 0,5% of annual revenue, the total they expect to sell throughout 2020 amounts to a staggering $400 million. Who are these political advertisers and how kosher are their practices? In a recent push for transparency, Snapchat fingered their biggest political ad spender as the “dark money” nonprofit, ACRONYM. Behind the charitable guise, ACRONYM operates Courier Newsroom, a digital agency known for creating political content aimed at voter persuasion, and disguising it as local news articles.
I’ll admit it’s become a bit of a crypto meme to answer news reports about any sort of catastrophe with a quick sticks, “Bitcoin (or blockchain) can fix that!” Please bear with me?
To describe the Internet system of today, we could say it’s a protocol that directs the communication between service providers (email clients, social media platforms, websites) and users. Each of the service providers operates their own (private and expensive) database where they store the data flowing through their service: site content, user interactions, user data, the emails planning your friend’s baby shower - you name it!
Although the Internet Protocol, or IP, is a universal language that directs traffic in an agreed-upon way, the trillions of databases at the backend are complete black holes. Once your data goes in, you’ll never know exactly what happens to it.
As a 1979 US Supreme Court judgment confirmed that “a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.” It is, therefore, entirely legit (from a legal perspective) to do with our info as they like (within the legal framework).
And so, to make it profitable for service providers to offer us online services ‘for free’, they retain and analyse the data we generate while interacting with their platforms. They might also sell our data to other businesses that stand a chance to profit from our data - through advertising, product development, and whatnot. The truth is, we never really know what happens to our data once it disappears into the black hole of the Internet.
What if I told you that, by using the Bitcoin (BSV) blockchain as infrastructure, we could shuffle the Internet’s business model around so that everyone wins? Users still get to access online content, and we still get to contribute our data to the development of the products and services of the future. With a few significant changes:
Sound too good to be true? Let me introduce you to The Metanet, a global protocol and framework for structuring and facilitating the on-chain internet for the Bitcoin SV blockchain.
Please note that the Metanet is LIVE and business can start using it today!
“I shall be working on getting the poorest people on earth connected to the Internet and with a smart phone. My plan is to get them working and earning. Not handouts. A dignified life.” Bitcoin Inventor, Dr Craig S. Wright
While it’s tricky to explain the concept of the Metanet, it would be reasonably accurate to picture it as a globally accessible digital library with a native electronic cash system.
Within this picture, any content that is published to the library’s global database (the Bitcoin ledger) is recorded as the property of a specific owner, and access permissions are stipulated right there and then. Although the directory (or index) of content is available to everyone, access to the actual information within each record can be made conditional by pairing it with a smart contract.
If we’re dealing with commercial content, like an eBook, a music file, or a feature film, the record will stipulate the price and duration that access will be granted for. Should you find the price reasonable, you’d swipe your library card to gain access to the file. The library system would automatically debit your library account, credit the content owner’s account, and take a minimal fee for processing the transaction. The details of this interaction are also recorded to the global library system.
As we are dealing with an in-house cash system, funds never have to be transferred from one bank to another at a high fee. In fact, transferring funds is as simple as writing a new entry into the library’s ledger. And, because a single library system is able to support all of the content storage around the world, users don’t have to be charged an arm and a leg to maintain thousands of separate systems. Interactions like storing or accessing content from the library can be accomplished for a minor fee - as small as a millionth of a pence (or smaller)! The ability to transact in such small sums means that it’s not only major data files that can be monetised, but micro-data, like your interactions with your eReader, your Social Media likes and comments, or a simple query on a search engine.
On the other end of the transaction, the content’s owner can monitor their account balance at all times, and check the library records to see how their content is spreading across the library network.
If we’re dealing with a song recorded by a local band, for example, the smart contract coupled with the content record could tell the library system to split all proceeds between the band members and the recording studio, according to a certain proportion. Even if multiple competing library systems should spring up, they would all have to access your song from its original location on the Bitcoin ledger, and the smart contract would execute regardless of the indexing system that was used. Think about all the benefits for content creators! Your song will never be copied without your consent, and all contributors to the project will be able to view the library records to confirm that they’ve been compensated as agreed.
The strength in Bitcoin isn't about moving large sums of money, but about being able to send micro cent transactions across the globe.— Eli Afram (@justicemate) February 14, 2020
There's where the real kicker is. Not only is that economic freedom for all populations, but it's enterprise enablement on a new level.
At the end of the day, library (Metanet) users might have to PAY a micro fee each time they query a Search Engine, access a Web Page, or interact on a Social Media platform. Still, they would also have opportunities to EARN funds in their library account by publishing content or contributing data to commercial or research projects. As the Bitcoin blockchain is programmable beyond your wildest dreams, each project can create a custom-made incentive system to suit their business model, then, let the market decide if it’s fair game.
Further reading about Metanet:
While the Metanet could be described as the protocol for an Internet of Money, it’s not the only project that is harnessing the Bitcoin blockchain as a data platform with a built-in cash system. Given that Bitcoin allows developers to design their own incentive schemes when building on the blockchain, there are already a number of fascinating applications for you to try out! Here are two of our favourites:
When it comes to Social Media, Twitter-like platform, Twetch gives us an idea of how an incentivised system can alter the nature of social interactions. Though you have to pay a few cents to post, follow users, and like content, the need for paid advertising is eliminated while trolling and bot accounts are disincentivised at the same time! Hurrah! (Give Bitstocks a follow on Twetch!)
Baemail (Before Anything Else Mail) is another exciting application built on the Bitcoin blockchain (BSV). Are you sick of spending hours every day scanning through an inbox of spam to make sure you don’t miss any critical communications? And then, to top it off, your email client has the cheek to serve you ads based on the content of your personal (sometimes very personal) communications?
Baemail is the opposite of all that: people have to pay to send you an email, and you can decide if they’re bidding high enough to earn your attention. What’s more is that your messages are encrypted from sender to recipient, with nobody but yourselves having access to the content.
With the data-economy on our doorstep, there’s no time to waste! It’s critical that we start thinking carefully about the data we're giving away "for free". While our lives, jobs and relationships are still entwined with systems that rob us of our data rights, Bitcoin-based content platforms like Metanet are already available, right now, to let us take back our right to own and profit from our own creations.