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Web 3.0: Trust Nothing

December 12, 2017 Leave a comment

I’ve always avoided using the term “Web 2.0.” I think it was supposed to mean that now the web is social—but it was always social to me, so calling it Web 2.0 just made me roll my eyes. To be fair, the birth of Web 2.0 does represent a time when people became more aware of the social nature of the web that was always there.

As much as the phrase “Web 2.0” has always irritated me, I was  found this tweet by Zeynep Tufekci compelling:

Web 1.0: It’ all about information! Web 2.0: Let’s go social! Web 3:0: Weaponized/monetized fraud; bots & trolls polluting the public sphere; organized attention manipulation ops; censorship via information glut, distraction and undermining credibility: Internet of Fake Things!

I believe we will look back on the first fifteen years of this century as kinder, gentler times. Consider for example the idea that we can use the web to gather meaningful public comment on issues. We used to really believe that, didn’t we? But in 2017 when the US Federal Communications Commission called for public comments on the issue of whether to repeal net neutrality rules, more than a million comments were faked. Web 3.0 is the recognition that we live in an adversarial environment, and the source of everything needs to be verified.

We live in the era of Boaty McBoatface. In 2016 when the British government asked for the public to vote on the name of its new polar research ship, the name Boaty McBoatface was voted to the top by internet denizens. (In the end the ship was named the RSS David Attenborough, but Boaty McBoatface was used to name an autonomous underwater vehicle carried by the Attenborough.) The story is funny, except when you ponder the fact that going forwards people are going to seriously hesitate before asking for public input on naming anything.  Certainly they’ll never be so naïve again to promise to use the top-voted name.

We increasingly live in an adversarial online environment. The phishing messages I am getting have gotten better and better over the last year. At Georgia Tech we have an email address for reporting phishing attempts to our network services organization. One phishing attempt I sent in got returned to me with a polite message, “This is actually a real message.”  I sent it back again—look more closely. And in fact it was a phishing attempt. OK, maybe someone was just having a bad day, but these things are getting harder and harder to detect. As I try to coach my parents and children in safe internet use, I have finally moved to simply telling them: Don’t click on a link in an email, ever. No matter how sure you are it’s real. Go type in the address of the website you are trying to reach and access it from there.

The cataclysm approaching us is The Internet of Things. We are increasingly surrounded by devices that can listen to us or change things in our environment, and our ability to keep those things secure is dubious.  Keith Lowell Jensen quipped, “What Orwell failed to predict is that we’d buy the cameras ourselves.” If you think getting brigaded by trolls on Twitter is unpleasant now, imagine when they control your home smart speaker, light switches, and front door.

We will, of necessity, move to a new age of locked-down identities and verified information. The internet users of the 2020s will look back on us as quaint in our openness and trust. And we will find new ways to be open and trusting in smaller groups and more locked-down communications media. If you want to leave a comment for the FCC, please authenticate with your national web ID. It’s a sad but necessary transition. Unless we want to give up on the idea of public commentary altogether, which would be sadder.

The web was always social, but with Web 2.0 the public became more aware of it. The web was always an adversarial environment in need of more security, and with Web 3.0 we, sadly, became more aware of it.

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Categories: social computing Tags: ,
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