We’ve all heard by now about the new revolutionary iteration of the world wide web that introduced us to digital currencies, Metaverses, and blockchain technology. The Web3 space by design act as an enhancement to previous versions of the internet. The new decentralized era promises the involvement of the community as it dismantles the need for centralized authorities or entities with a high concentration of power within the current financial systems. However, regardless of the new technological advancements Web3 brings with it, it bears its own ethical ramifications. So, what are Web3’s ethics? Is it the new and improved version of a network reality? Or is it a lawless space?
What is Web3’s Ethos?
Web3 is the next generation of the internet that is based on blockchain technology. This new advancement shifts the world wide web from centralized authorities to a decentralized peer-to-peer network. Meaning, users control the network in place of the small number of companies that dictates the network’s future.
Blockchain technology facilitated the decentralization of Web3 by providing technology for storing and transmitting data with the control of a central entity. The shared information is stored in blocks of data and is chained together to form an immutable ledger. The peer-to-peer nature of the blockchain allows operating nodes to verify and accept transactions via a determined consensus. The blockchain has been the underlying foundation of all digital currencies ever since the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto introduced Bitcoin to the world back in 2009.
The Web3 era offers the idea of retrieving and securing ownership of personal data. This means if applied to social networks, users have the ability to own and control their decentralized social graph. A social graph is the model of all interactions of an individual on a social platform. Kinda like a social footprint. In centralized networks, these social graphs are owned by the central authority and thus get used in feeding recommendation algorithms.
In contrast, Web3’s values include collaboration, transparency, ownership, and interoperability. Digital data can be now transferred across platforms, without having users lose all their information. For example, if a user leaves a music streaming service, they’ll lose access to all their playlists. This is not the case with Web3 technologies.
In addition, Web3 users are not just consumers like previously seen in many Web2 platforms. Instead, Web3 users are taking more active roles like voting on new technologies or co-building them and having the chance to own part of the IP of a certain product.
Web2’s Problem of Data Privacy
In the current era of the internet, social media users often ask how are there big multi-billion platforms such as Facebook and TikTok profit, if they are free to use. The answer simply is: They sell users’ data. The data produced by these platforms’ users make up the basis of the economic model.
How? Well, for one, user data is used to feed recommendation algorithms to create personalized content. Thus, making users hooked to the platform. The second thing, and maybe the most important, users’ data is sold to third-party companies for advertising purposes. Ever wondered how advertisements always show you what you need? Well, this is why.
Web2 platforms are built on something called attention economy. Meaning, social networks are designed to grab people’s attention to keep them interested.
People nowadays get scared when they hear of new upcoming technologies and coin these times as the “dystopian era”. However, in reality, the dystopian era has already begun. For instance, platforms such as TikTok openly state that it collects users’ voiceprints and faceprints. Which as you guessed, seems a bit, scary?
So, Does Web3 Fix the Data Privacy Issues?
Well, technically. Web3 came and brought with it similar social platforms like those in Web2, but with the absence of a centralized controlling entity. Distributed social networks ensure ownership of personal data through the control users have over their social graphs.
However, just like everything, it really depends on who is using the data. Blockchains are public databases, however, just because certain data is in the public domain doesn’t mean users should abuse it.
Web3 Ethics Dilemmas
Even though Web3 is known for its transparency and decentralization values, it’s far from perfect. There are currently many rapid-growing “for good” Web3 projects that as people to fund the project for a good cause. Just like everything, this creates a margin for exploitation. Here is Web3 ethics come into the picture. For instance, let’s look at the NFT collection Floydies. On the surface, it looks like a project that expresses solidarity with the Black Lives Movement project. However, it’s basically a racist exploitation of George Floyd’s image to gain profit.
Also, the Associated Press put out in their marketplace an iconic image of a rubber boat carrying immigrants across the Mediterranean as an NFT. This met a backlash from people claiming that AP is profiting off of suffering. AP deleted the image eventually, but it showed how the absence of central control can lead to abuse in terms of moderation.
Since Web3’s ethos also include a web free of censorship, many platforms will emerge as a dedicated space to hatred towards minorities, cyber-harassment, and the free expression of racist, anti-Semitic, sexist, and conspiracy-related content.
In addition, the Web3 space, especially NFTs, is known for many scams and rug pulls. This might lead people to question the ethics of this new iteration of the internet. On that note, let’s highlight the major ethical dilemmas facing Web3 from its lack of control and surveillance:
- Law and Legal Issues: Data leaks, ICO scams, copyright infringement, art theft, wash trading, impersonation, and money laundering.
- Machine Orientation: Racial bias from robots, cybersecurity risks, unemployment due to loss of jobs to machines.
- Cyberbullying: Cyber harassment, racism, sexism, and many other forms of verbal and written abuse.
- Effect on the Environment: Increase of tons of electronic waste. Huge energy consumption due to consensus mechanisms.
Towards a Better and Ethical Web
A good reminder is that nothing is a complete utopia. Web3 is still in its infancy stage, and of course, some malicious actors will try to disrupt the whole ethos of the community. However, let’s make it clear what Web3 is not. Web3 is not pure anarchy. Centralized entities and platforms are not going away. Second, Web3 is not a way to overthrow the government, laws, and regulations will eventually catch up with this fast technology.
In order for Web3 to not deviate into a dystopian nightmare of lawless internet, social good should be integral not only to the ethos of Web3 but to its infrastructure. Web3 should include fundamental values that act as the building blocks of the network.
Things like intentionality, accountability, affirmed norms, and an ethics framework are necessary, if not vital, to the procedure of this new iteration of the internet.
You might say that Web3 ethics are not something one should account for, since the mass population won’t adopt this new generation of the internet. However, considering the time it took to develop Web3 technologies, and the billions of dollars worth of investments in its development, Web3 is here to stay.