The Decentralized Web Podcast: #001 Jonathan Bingham
Janeiro Digital’s brand new podcast is debunking, demistifying and discovering the decentralized web: The Decentralized Web Podcast is here to reimagine a connected and sustainable future of ethical data sharing.
Since the creation of the World Wide Web over three decades ago, there has arguably been no single commodity more valuable than data. Organizations trade in the currency of data, seeking ever-greater volumes to inform and influence customer behaviour. Data acquisition has snowballed, such that many companies now harbour vast swathes of sensitive information, often unbeknown to the individuals it belongs to. This is, in essence, the problem of a ‘centralized web’; so much of our data is now held captive by organisations, rather than in the hands of the individual. These issues around data privacy and information segregation have now catalyzed the search for more innovative and fair models of information exchange.
Janeiro Digital has been working with collaborators to advance a new, decentralized era of data exchange – or ‘Web 2.0’. Through the open-source Solid protocol, individuals can store information pertaining to the various aspects of their daily lives – such as banking, healthcare, and their insurance details – in several personal online data systems, or ‘Pods’. Users are then able to consent to (or deny!) the release of their data to applications and other entities.
To connect Solid and other decentralized web technologies, the team developed XFORM. The platform creates a bridge between pods, existing systems and the decentralized web, enabling user-consented data sharing.
When asked about use cases for XFORM, Solid and Pods, Jonathan illustrates the example of an insurance company requesting to access their customers’ cellular data to offer real-time policies, for example a car insurance policy for an Uber driver that varies in real-time depending on whether the driver is using the vehicle for business or personal use. Vitally, the decision to release this information to the insurance company is entirely at the discretion of the customer, who is able to adjust permissions via their Pod.
More pointedly in healthcare, Jonathan recounts the experience of a young girl, T, with asthma, who’d had 42 clinic visits before tragically succumbing to the illness. On review of her case, it was found that many of the visits had, for all intents and purposes, been a ‘first visit’, with limited information exchange within and between care episodes and providers. The Janeiro Digital team is now leveraging the decentralized web, via XFORM to create universal personal health records to mitigate the risk of such events occurring again.
The advantages of decentralization are manifold. Perhaps most significantly, it helps to facilitate a sense of customer empowerment, and ensures their data is released only to those organisations that provide genuine value to them as individuals. This represents substantial progress from the days of customers being passive, often unwilling, recipients of a product or service, vulnerable to exploitation from the information asymmetry present across so many industries.
On the supply side, the notion of a decentralized web is, in many ways, ushering in a mindset or paradigm shift toward an age of ‘conscientious capitalism’. Organizations must learn to cherish data for its value rather than its volume, and incentivise ethical business practices. In a decentralized web, unethical practises may lead to customers withdrawing their data and taking their business elsewhere.
With ethical, consented access to a much broader spectrum of customer data on a decentralized web, new and innovative revenue streams can be opened up. Customer-held databases may also go some way towards easing the regulatory burden currently borne disproportionately by organizations.
Despite promising benefits, many businesses are sceptical about relinquishing their most significant competitive advantage into the hands of their customers. Jonathan advocates for a ‘non-confrontational’ approach, wherein organizations are supported and not steamrolled through the decentralization process. For example, XFORM facilitates the bidirectional and seamless transfer of data between existing systems and infrastructure and the PODs, to minimise disruption and improve information exchange. Jonathan also points to the work Janeiro Digital have been doing to disseminate guidance and standards on interoperability and has been encouraged by the appetite for decentralization of several large technology and management consultancy firms.
Looking to the future, the question becomes one of ecosystem building, wherein the notion of a decentralized web is embraced with open arms rather than looked upon with apprehension. As more and more organizations come to recognise the benefits conferred by decentralized, customer-held data, Solid and Pods will continue to be embedded within routine workflows. As Jonathan, the team at Janeiro Digital is lighting the match, inviting other organizations to add sticks and logs to the fire.
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