In November 2019, the Internet got a new browser. That might sound like the start of a bad business idea. We already have plenty of browsers to choose from.
If you like your Web viewing to come from a brand that’s big and reliable, then there’s Google’s Chrome, Apple’s Safari, and Microsoft’s Edge. If you prefer to skip the big firms and go for something more independent and open source, Mozilla’s Firefox does a good job too. They’re all fast enough and they all do what they’re supposed to do: serve up the content on Web pages and not get in the way. Your choice often comes down to whatever you’re used to.
But those browsers also let the Internet follow a model that’s developed since the days of AltaVista. Users see content on their screens. The owners of the Web browsers keep a record of the pages they view and the terms they search. They sell access to that data to advertisers and share some of that revenue with the owners of the Web pages. Much of the money they keep for themselves.
It looks a like a good deal. Users get to surf the Web for free. The browser-makers get valuable data. Advertisers get to target their ads. Publishers get to make a little money.
But it’s become increasingly clear that it’s not a good deal at all. Google is worth nearly a trillion dollars, and it’s reached that valuation by taking and selling user data. The company takes nearly a third of the money that advertisers spend on targeted ads. And users? They get nothing for letting a trillion dollar company track their every move on the Internet.
Brave is new but if it takes off, it could change the way the Internet works. Its use of the blockchain to pay users for their data could take power away from big companies and give it back to customers. It could also set a model for social media.
Facebook works in exactly the same way as Google. It might pitch itself as a platform for keeping in touch with friends and brands, but by pushing news and other content into streams, it functions in the same way as a browser. It collects huge amounts of data about users in return for access to Internet content. It then sells that data to third parties. Facebook’s two billion users get to use the platform for free but that’s a poor deal for the value of the information they’re providing. Facebook is worth nearly $600 billion—that’s around $300 per user. Those users aren’t getting anything like $300 worth of content in return.
Now that Brave has shown that it’s possible to use the blockchain not just to allow users to keep their data but to pay them for that data, it’s only a matter of time before someone disrupts the social media market in the same way. We’ll still be able to find out what our friends are doing. We’ll still be able to show off our vacation photos and share pictures of our breakfast. But the data we generate will stay ours and instead of handing over that private information to a big social media corporation, we’ll be receiving a cryptocurrency in return for agreeing to receive ads based on our interests.
Social media, though, can go even further. Browsers are passive. They only display content. Social media also allows for the creation of content, and the platforms depend on that content to keep users engaged. That means they should be paying for content too. At the moment that mostly takes the form of giving top influencers a (small) share of advertising revenues. A social media platform that makes use of cryptocurrency though, could push more new coins towards contributors who win the most attention. The money flowing through the platform would belong to its users, both viewers and contributors.
We haven’t reached that stage yet, and Brave has only just launched. But expect to see cryptocurrency democratize social media and solve its privacy problem in the way that’s about to happen to browsers.
Joel Comm is New York Times best-selling author, blockchain enthusiast, futurist speaker, social media marketing strategist, live video expert, technologist, brand influencer, and eternal 12-year old. His latest project is as co-host of The Bad Crypto Podcast, a top cryptocurrency show making the future of digital payments easy to understand.
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