From Web1 to Web2, we’ve made great strides in decentralizing data, empowering users to create content and share it via websites. That’s where the buck stops, as users do not own and control their data. Moreover, since big tech companies run Web2 for the most part, users do not know what genuine privacy and ownership feel like. 

Web3 changes the game. It gives users access to an open, trustless and permissionless Internet, where they need to rely on these companies or compromise data ownership and privacy. The evolution of privacy and storage from Web1 to Web3 has been vast. Web3 could empower society by giving control back to users. Here’s how:

Web1 to Web3: The evolution of privacy and data storage

The web was mostly a static medium in its early days. Web1 introduced websites, a groundbreaking innovation that provided a new and potent medium for consuming content. However, it only allowed one-way communication, which was the main limitation. Users could only consume content on these websites, not create or contribute, which made Web1 non-collaborative and a bit boring compared to today.  

In addition, Web1 was severely centralized. The creators controlled the website, data storage and even data communications or transmissions. As a result, users did not play a major role in Web1 and they were merely participants who consumed content on the web but had no ownership or rights.

Towards user participation

We are currently on Web2. At least theoretically, the focus has shifted towards user participation in this phase, which is one of its greatest upsides. Users cannot merely read data on this version, but also write. For example, they can create blogs, videos tutorials and more. But there’s a catch here, as there are limitations to what users can do.

Users have a broader creative scope in Web2. They can populate custom websites and interact with all forms of data, enabling solutions and services unthinkable in Web1. And yet, big tech companies own and govern the servers that host and store such data. In other words, users can now create and contribute data to the web, but not control it. Thus, web-based communications and storage remain highly centralized. 

Being able to share content and generate data on the web is empowering but it does not ensure ownership. Web2 is a service with Terms and Conditions. And big tech companies determine these terms ultimately, exercising absolute control. So much so that users cannot use the web without accepting the said terms, consciously or unconsciously. As mentioned in our previous report, we are late to realize the importance of privacy on the Internet and our clipboards, preferences and browsing activities are sent to countless websites and sold without much input from us.

Towards decentralization 

Web3 is the promised land. It solves the issues of centralization of data storage and communication. Web2 initiated the journey towards decentralization, but eventually fostered worse forms of centralization than Web1. 

To reiterate, users did not actually control or own the data they produced. Moreover, the centralized web is also conducive to censorship and de-platforming. And as a whole, big tech companies severely exploit end-users to maximize profits. Now the question is—what’s different about Web3?

Decentralization. Web3 returns the control over data to users, who remain in charge of storage and communication. Websites on this user-centric version of the web run on blockchain networks, replacing single (centralized) servers with thousands of globally distributed computers (nodes). Instead of legacy processes and channels, they interact with end-users through decentralized applications or dApps.  

Most dApps are genuinely community-governed and noncustodial. Users can thus experience actual and meaningful ownership of their data, with algorithmically secured intellectual property rights. Moreover, the underlying blockchain facilitates transparent communications while prioritizing privacy through cryptographic encryption. 

Censorship is also mostly impossible since smart contracts automatically execute web processes based on predefined triggers and conditions without human interference. The approach ensures optimal fairness as well. 

Web3: Privacy and data storage are not luxuries

As dApps replace centralized websites, users can regain their privacy and the ability to store data. Web3’s user-to-platform interactions are confidential and anonymous, both in principle and in practice. All this lets individuals realize their self-sovereignty and rest assured about the security of their private information.

Web3 is not yet here entirely, but we are moving steadily towards a digital world where privacy and ownership are a right, not luxuries. The challenge now is to ensure the robustness of the key infrastructure. For one, dApps need to be optimally functional, onboarding masses and providing their services at scale. 

We are getting there soon, though, thanks to the industry’s many prolific and innovative communities. The social impact of Web3 empowers individuals at a fundamental level. And by securing privacy and ownership at this level, we can eventually establish these as the norm for human-to-human and human-to-machine interactions. Web3 is indeed the future that users deserve, the future that is now. 

Forrest Bai is the cofounder of Foresight Ventures.

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