Following the revelations that data was collected from users of the social media platform Facebook and used for political campaign purposes by Cambridge Analytica, a UK-based data analytics firm, concerns of online privacy have grown. Some have viewed this as a blessing in disguise for the blockchain technology. This is because the technology could be used to prevent misuse of user’s data not just on Facebook but other social media networks as well.
One of the ways that blockchain lends itself as having the potential of positively impacting social networks include the fact that it is decentralized in nature. This makes it possible to exchange information and messages on a platform that is secure and private while only exposing to the owners of the platforms only what users have chosen to. An example of a social network that is based on the blockchain technology is Obsidian which with the Obsidian Messenger allows for data sharing and messaging.
According to the chief executive officer of Obsidian, Peter McClory, the social media platform was created to make up for the shortcomings of the end-to-end messaging apps such as Threema, Wire, Signal and WhatsApp. While they claim to be secure there is no protection of the data that reveals who users are communicating with. Thus the firm behind the messaging app or observers can get hold of this data and build the network of users who are exchanging messages. This is especially the case when the accounts of users are linked to phone numbers or email addresses.
For example when using iMessage or Messenger, there is end-to-end encryption of messages ensuring that third parties cannot read what is being sent by one person to another. However the meta data, information on the parties that are communicating with each other that is, is not hidden. Thus third parties can take advantage of this and use it for their own ends whether it is law enforcement or hackers.
No centralized servers
To solve this problem Obsidian will not have centralized servers but will operate off nodes which are run by users who have a stake and these will be distributed all over the world. Thus one advantage of such a decentralized or distributed system is that metadata will not be held on centralized servers and this eliminates the possibilities that third parties use this in data gathering, surveillance and tracking.
For a lot of regular users the fact that meta data is in plain sight is not a problem. But there are situations where absolute secrecy and privacy is necessary. This could for instance be important in oppressive regimes where there is no freedom of speech.
One major shortcoming with regards to having data stored on the blockchain is that it can be accessed from anywhere even if it is just a part of it. Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology are however developing what is expected to be a solution for this – secret contracts which possess nodes on the blockchain that are able to conduct computation of data without having to see it. According to the MIT researchers this will enable users to exercise control over their personal information thereby preventing its analysis or monetization by platforms.
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