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The Evolution of the Internet (Took a Wrong Turn)

Evolution of the Internet

Researchers funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) invented what would evolve into the Internet to facilitate communication and information sharing. The goal was to create a robust and decentralized network that could withstand partial failures, such as damage to some communication routes and/or computer systems.

When businesses started embracing the Internet in the 1990s, it was natural for them to store their data themselves. Cue the introduction of sprawling commercial data centers with thousands of operational staff to run them. 

These were expensive, difficult to manage, and definitely not “Agile.”

Then came the cloud. The cloud computing model promised enterprises a way to offload all of their data management problems.

And that last sentence is key. Old problems were being offloaded, not solved — and all new problems were emerging.

You’re a drop in an ocean of data

Increasingly, our data is being funneled into the same cloud providers and SaaS services that everyone else uses, creating vast oceans of data.

But why is that a problem?

  • Your data is increasingly out of your control. For example, in February, Reddit finalized a $60 million AI content licensing agreement with Google as part of its $5 billion IPO strategy. This deal grants Google access to Reddit’s API data for training AI models.
  • Threat actors only have to breach one organization to breach hundreds (or even thousands). On March 15th, software giant Fujitsu announced it had been compromised by malware, exposing an unknown amount of customer data. But experts think there’s more to the story — “Fujitsu is said to have left unprotected some private AWS keys, client data and plain text passwords for upwards of a year.” Fujitsu’s clients include major corporations like AT&T and Boeing.
  • Then there’s the loss of privacy. We might occasionally receive a targeted ad or push notification, but we don’t necessarily think of ourselves as “exposed” — rather, that’s just the way things are. According to a new executive order issued in February, though, “the way things are” is exposing you. The order says, in part, that “advances in technology, combined with access by countries of concern to large data sets, increasingly enable countries of concern [to access bulk sensitive personal data].”

Where does the Internet go from here?

If I were to reimagine the Internet, here’s where I’d start: I’d pull the plug. Drain the ocean.

In my vision for the new Internet, we’d go back to the beginning and focus on building a “robust and decentralized network” where each person would own their own data and store it where they prefered it to be stored.

Instead of my bank storing all of my transactional information — I would. Cloud providers could still be in the business of providing storage options, but the data would only be readable by the person it belongs to. Access to run algorithms on that data would also be controlled by the data owners themselves.

When I apply for a car loan, why should the company approving my loan have access to all of my credit card statements? Why do they have to know how much I make, where I eat, when I travel? They don’t have to. Instead, the algorithm they use to determine my creditworthiness could be downloaded to the compute integrated with my storage and simply return its result to the loan company.

Think all of this couldn’t work? It already does. This is essentially blockchain technology. For all of blockchain’s hype, decentralizing transactional data and improving security while increasing transparency is its goal.

When every individual controls their own data, what’s the motivation to “hack” anyway? No longer could a hacker justify spending the time, effort, and resources to infiltrate just one system to get one person’s data. Today, hacking one system could capture millions of people’s data.

The Internet will look and act very differently a decade from now. It’s evolving, but we don’t have to stay on the same evolutionary path. We can take it down a different one.

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