In the final chapter of The Electronic B@zaar, a book I authored in 1998 about the destiny of the Internet, I wrote the following words:
“The electronic b@zaar will be visited daily by electronic consumers who are monitored as they pass from stall to stall, from website to website. As the net develops, every click of the mouse will be captured, because most consumers will have eagerly exchanged the right to monitor their behavior for loyalty discounts given to them by one of several large consortia of electronic retailers.
The web will thus be inhabited by intelligent software agents that gather data and pass it to large data warehouses, to be sorted and sifted and then analyzed by intelligent data-mining software that will reveal in depth the behavior of each individual consumer. It will uncover every trend, large or small.
The giant electronic stall holders of the bazaar will hold data on you, will know your preferences, and will be able to predict your behavior before you have even decided what your behavior is. Excellent sales targeting will mean that products and choices in which you have no interest will never be presented to you. The traders at the bazaar will offer you an excellent and remarkably sophisticated service, for which you will be financially grateful. They will provide you with exactly what you need at a price that you can afford whenever you need it. Right?
That imaginary scenario is based on push, and such a scenario would never take hold in a publish-subscribe world. If it seemed to be developing in this direction, then one of two things would happen. Either individual web users would adopt completely false identities, or legislation would be enacted to preserve the identity of an individual from attempts by any organization to discover it. The idea that “whoever has economic knowledge of you has economic power over you” is going to gain currency.
Individuals may be willing to trade knowledge of themselves for value, but they will not be happy to give it away in perpetuity — only to lend it.
And so a completely different set of possibilities arises.”
The Erroneous Prediction
This prediction was wrong for two reasons:
- At the time most people did not appreciate that personal data had significant value.
- The technology required to secure personal data and monetize it did not exist.
When I wrote the book, the idea that personal data was individually owned had value was prevalent in the UK and the EU. Indeed it was an idea that had been spawning data regulations since 1981. In the US it just wasn’t the case. Commercial organizations had declared open season on personal data long before the Internet was a gleam in the eye of Tim Berners Lee.
As the internet grew up, the technogeeks staked their claims. You didn’t need to be a math major to exploit data mining; you only needed to be a coder and think of ways to gather data.
And as for internet users, no matter where they came from, they were happy to donate their data for the sake of a seductive social network and the boon of free email. It was a massacre. They never stood a chance.
The Worm Turns
Just as Internet technology worked against consumers, Blockchain technology works for them, restoring the balance. Let’s spell it out in bullet points:
- The blockchain can store your personal data.
- The blockchain can secure your personal data and even anonymized it when used.
- The blockchain enables micropayments making it practical to think up schemes to monetize your data.
- None of this is expensive.
- You can strike back against the Geeks that stole your data, and you need to.
If you don’t manage your data, someone else will. You have been warned.