Fehzan Ali is the Co-Founder & Chair of the Board at Adscend Media, a comprehensive ad platform that rewards users as they engage with ads.


Today, we live in a world where companies often collect massive amounts of user data and utilize this data with the intention to provide value. Unfortunately, at some point, that mission failed in subtle yet meaningful ways, and user data has been used in a way that users simply haven’t agreed to.

The last few years, data privacy has become a greater concern in response to those unintended consequences. Users are becoming increasingly aware of the implications of their data being shared and utilized by companies. Lawmakers and politicians are equally raising questions about the way user data is being used. Most of the population, however, still doesn’t truly understand how valuable their data truly is. Yet, it is slowly creeping into the fabric of society through issues like polarization, misinformation, confirmation bias and other negative influences.

In response, there have been some data privacy laws like GDPR and CCPA that add an additional layer of protection. However, they simply don’t go far enough to protect user privacy. Instead, they mostly allow businesses to check off a few boxes.

A lot more work needs to be done, and the internet will need to fundamentally change to support a healthier relationship between companies and user privacy. Today, innovators refer to this new, fundamental change in the internet ecosystem as Web 3.0. Unlike Web 2.0, Web 3.0 enables a world where users can own and be properly compensated for their data.

Today, privacy laws do enable users to have more data rights than they did prior to 2018. Users in certain regions are now able to gain access to, manage and even delete their data in certain cases. While this is better news, it’s still often quite difficult to know how to gain access to your data, how it was used and how to restrict or delete access to it. Often times, the privacy prompts on most websites and applications are too long and difficult to understand for your average user. According to a late 2019 study conducted by Pew Research, 81% of US adults continue to believe they have little to no control over the data collected.

Given the data, it’s clear that these privacy laws simply have not solved large parts of privacy issues yet. 

So, where do we go from here? How can Web 3.0 drive privacy? One word: blockchain. Imagine a future where users’ data belongs to them transparently and is not owned by any one entity, and where users can clearly see who has access to their data and what type of access they have.

As an executive who has studied blockchain deeply and whose company has built a lot of ad tech, here are a few ways I think Web 3.0 and blockchain could help ensure a privacy-driven future for users that can remove some of the negative influences of companies today:

1. Blockchain technology. By default, blockchain is a decentralized form of technology that allows no particular person or group to have full control of an ecosystem. Rather, all users collectively can retain control. While there is no single governing entity in blockchain, blockchain is a database that holds records while algorithmically ensuring security and transparency.

2. Proper incentives in the ecosystem. Great blockchain frameworks have seriously considered the incentives to ensure that all actors, from those who maintain the ledger and power the network to the businesses that build on top of the blockchain, actually operate fairly and transparently. When they do not, those actors can be punished based on the rules of the blockchain or collective voting.

3. Users can and will still share their data, but they will know exactly how it’s used. If blockchain is executed properly, users should decide when, how and how long to share their data. Users also should know exactly how it’s used. If a company sells user data to a third party, the user should know which companies it has been sold to. If searches in Google are used to predict and show users a particular ad, they should know this too. 

4. Users can revoke the data they share at any time. If a user is not comfortable with how their data is used or is no longer interested in sharing data with a particular company, they will ideally be able to revoke access. 

5. Less Hackable. Blockchain is designed to be computationally impossible to hack today due to a number of safeguards. The mass, global adoption of Bitcoin clearly shows that blockchain is impossible to hack thus far. This is great news, as there have been 98.2 million individuals impacted by the 10 biggest data breaches in the first half of 2021, according to information compiled by ITRC and the US Department of Health and Human Services. As the race against hackers ramps up, blockchain technology offers additional protections. 

While we are years away from mass adoption of blockchain technologies, here are a few ways that businesses can be ready and positioned for a privacy-driven future to survive and thrive: 

1. Be honest and transparent with how user data is used. The more a business shares, the more likely the user is to trust the business.

2. Be clear in the value exchange to users in cases where user data is needed to operate the business. Many businesses do provide value to users who share their data, and if those businesses can clearly communicate how they drive value, users are more likely to grant access to the data. This enables a more trustworthy relationship with users.

3. Audit business practices to protect user privacy.

4. Keep an open mind toward new technologies like blockchain that may ultimately drive the future of the internet and user privacy. While we are likely many years out from mass adoption of Web 3.0 technologies that enable strict privacy, keeping an open mind will enable businesses to make the transition with minimal disruption to their businesses.

Ultimately, Web 2.0 has driven incredible technological progress in this world. As a natural evolution of the internet and to combat issues surrounding user privacy/data breaches, Web 3.0 is on the way and blockchain will likely be the foundational technology that leads this progress at scale.

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