Internet Privacy Is an Inalienable Right

As billions around the world continue to spend more and more of their lives online, making true digital privacy a reality has become imperative. At the same time, because of a series of scandals over the last two or three years, privacy has once again surfaced as a major – and very legitimate – public concern. The rapid emergence of Web 3 provides both a challenge and opportunity.

At first sight, the current reality is anything but encouraging. The entire business model of the “Big Tech” social media companies is built on collecting and selling users’ personal information to advertisers and political groups for the purpose of microtargeting. This information includes not only message content but all the metadata about what we search for or pay for, who we communicate with, when, how often and from where.

David Chaum, a pioneer in cryptography and in privacy-preserving and secure voting technologies, is the creator and founder of the xx network. In 1995, his company, DigiCash, created and deployed eCash, the first digital currency, which used Chaum’s breakthrough blind-signature protocol. This post is part of CoinDesk’s Privacy Week series.

In other words, Web 2 is essentially founded on the almost complete absence of user privacy and the exploitation of our personal information by huge centralized organizations. Almost as bad, these organizations maintain databases of this and other accumulated information about billions of us, which are breached by cybercriminals with shameful frequency.

To be sure, some social media companies promise or actually deliver end-to-end message encryption. But user metadata is much more valuable to these organizations than the message contents, as shown by the fact that Facebook, for instance, is proposing to offer “end-to-end” message content encryption while leaving user metadata in the clear so the company can continue to harvest and sell it. What’s more, ever-more-powerful artificial intelligence (AI) is already being used to analyze the vast troves of scraped and sold data to both predict and manipulate user behavior. Such manipulation includes the tailoring and dissemination of disinformation for political ends. This dissemination…