Social media has become an integral part of our personal and business lives. We use it to create business groups, make sales, build brand awareness, foster relationships, and keep in touch with long-distance friends. We use it to show our success, interests, fears, vacation pictures, and videos. Besides, we use it to learn local, national, regional, and international news and politics.
Despite all this dependency, social media continues to breach users’ trust. Benign contests and games steal users’ data to big establishments with vote-collection and profit-making intentions. Social media news feeds often lack accuracy and is biased. Advertisers track us from all angles.
Luckily, developers have invented decentralized social media platforms that prevent the threats of centralized social media websites. This is Part II of the centralized vs. decentralized identity topic. We will discuss the dangers of centralized identity and the practical use cases of decentralized identity.
The Threats of Centralized Identity
Threat 1: Users are the Products, not the Customers
Centralized identity is not the ideal way for social interactions. Although Facebook connects us better than any other platform, it does so at a cost: it collects users’ data and uses it to carry out marketing campaigns.
Advertisers range from businesses that want us to purchase their products and services to establishments that want to influence our political and social decisions. With centralized identity use cases, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube, advertisers take the role of a customer, and user data acts as the product.
Threat II: Algorithmically Curated Feeds can Cause Bias and Polarization
Nowadays, many people get links to news and other stories from their social media platforms. Therefore, the way social media platforms present news to users is essential. The Wall Street Journal’s 2016 survey, “Blue Feed, Red Feed,” shows how different my news feed might be based on what Facebook knows about me. Liberals are fed with different stories compared to conservatives.
Social media user data creates algorithms that control what users view in their news feeds in a manner that presents a one-sided, echo-chamber perception of the world. An understanding that only upholds and never opposes our opinions can cause more divisiveness and social discontent.
Threat III: Centralized Identity is Easy to Hack
We discussed this argument in part one of this topic. When a firm uses centralized storage for user identity, hackers can quickly access many accounts in one successful attack.
It has happened to Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn, not forgetting the Securities and Exchange Commission, Equifax, Deloitte, Anthem Blue Cross, and many others that use centralized identity management. This is what has made the likes of Twitter to start funding research into decentralized versions of their platforms.
Decentralized Identity Use Cases
Lit strives to be the blockchain-version of Instagram and Snapchat. The company compensates its users who create content with MITH tokens. The tokens are based on a principle known as social mining, and they can be traded for other digital currencies and liquidated to fiat. Instead of selling user data, advertisers are required to buy MITH tokens and use them to compensate content creators directly for their audience’s attention.
Solid is an open-source platform designed to restore the power and agency of internet users. While it is not a blockchain use case, it enables people to control their information from centralized social media platforms and choose where to store their data and who can access it.
Steemit has been duped has “the decentralized Reddit.” It rewards users with Steem tokens for creating valuable content on the platform. Steemit developers argue that social media users should be paid to create content and support the platforms, not the shareholders. Steem runs on its blockchain.
Mastodon is a decentralized, open-source social platform that resembles Twitter. Users can post status of not more than 500 characters, links, photos, and videos, with no advertising or data mining intentions. Its news feed is chronological, unlike centralize social media platforms’ feeds that display algorithmically ranked feeds.
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