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The COVID-19 pandemic gave a 3-4x boost to digital transformations and adoptions worldwide. During its peak in 2020, 58% of global consumer interactions happened digitally.
Once users, consumers, and employees experienced the upsides of digital interactions—more flexibility or freedom, lower commutation time, etc.—they mostly didn’t want to go back. Online channels became the “new normal” for both personal and professional communications.
But while there’s good reason for tech optimists to celebrate this shift, it’s vital to identify and mitigate the risks coming along. For example, centralized real-time communication (RTC) platforms like Skype, Zoom, Slack, etc., pose severe data-mining and privacy violation threats to users.
Solving these problems will enable users to fully leverage digital communications’s power. Web3 has unlocked new opportunities to this end. Decentralized real-time communication (dRTC) innovations are ongoing and will put users in control of digital interactions and data.
Centralized RTC networks are rivalrous private goods
Most existing RTC platforms are “private goods” with one primary goal: profit maximization. They usually have a freemium model where users can onboard and use the product with zero or minimal costs. But as the saying goes, if you’re not paying for it, you are the product.
Web2 communication giants have been infamously guilty of mining user data and monetizing them via third-party ads and other channels. Zoom, for instance, was caught shipping users’ personal information to Meta from the moment they logged on.
The data set included everything from contact information to the user’s device model, unique advertising ID—everything. More concerningly, the packets are transport encrypted and not content encrypted. This means the encryption breaks at the server end, allowing Zoom to see and read users’ data.
Notably, Zoom supplied the said information even for users who didn’t have a Facebook account. While it seems weird, this reveals how legacy digital communications and advertising are totally company-centric rather than user-led. “Help us provide the best experience” is a farce.
“The unique advertising identifier allows companies to target the user with advertisements,” as the lawsuit against Zoom stated. It’s all about the platform or service provider(s) making the most money out of the user’s data with little care for ethics or fairness. Whereas users don’t have much control over the fuel of digital economies—i.e., data—despite being its primary source.
Legacy RTC systems are skewed and broken from every angle. Besides unethical practices, they are prone to external hacks and breaches due to excessive centralization and single points of failure. The rise in high-profile “Zoombombing” cases provides concerning evidence.
Moreover, in 2019, Slack had to reset user passwords four years after a security breach in March 2015. This shows how the actual lifecycle of data breaches can be longer than the global 200-day average IBM highlighted in its “Cost of a Data Breach” report in 2023.
Last but not least, centralized RTC networks face significant performance bottlenecks when there are sudden spikes in user activity. Particularly for users with low bandwidth and connection speeds, legacy A/V communications can be frustratingly choppy.
‘Privacy is for those who’re hiding something’
Count this among the most notorious and misleading claims of the century. It’s a ploy for corporations to gaslight users into giving up control over their digital lives and data. And trading privacy for convenience was the best users could do so far, for the lack of alternative tools.
Web3, however, is here to change things for good. Privacy is a foundational principle for this ecosystem, building on Joseph Kupfer’s idea that it’s indispensable for autonomy and freedom. Access to private and secure communication channels lets users choose which thoughts, feelings, or information they want to share and with whom.
Rather than a haven for criminals and wrongdoers, privacy is a way to retain basic human dignity and safety. Because, as Edward Snowden rightly said, knowing too much about us gives Big Tech firms the power ‘to create permanent records of private lives.’ It’s like we’re living our lives in someone’s database.
These records can be used to influence users’ decisions, behaviors, and choices—literally everything about who they are. And with legacy giants betraying totalitarian tendencies via incidents involving Cambridge Analytica to Pegasus, there’s good reason to associate platforms like Zoom with the NSA.
dRTC innovations will put users back in control
Tim Berners-Lee envisioned the World Wide Web as a decentralized realm where everyone can access ‘the best information at any time.’ We have come a long way from that point. The web is no longer only about consuming/accessing information but also about creating, storing, and sharing data. Yet, this is also the journey of users losing control in the ways discussed above.
It’s clear that centralization and private profit-maximization motives have been the main culprits in this story. Legacy RTC platforms and service providers don’t have the incentives to prioritize end-user privacy and focus only on pumping their bags. They are rent extractive by nature, and mere ethical arguments won’t change a thing.
Decentralized real-time communication (dRTC) networks, however, can set the record straight and align incentives for companies and end-users. Moving beyond simple peer-to-peer frameworks popular in the very early days of web3’s evolution, they unlock secure wallet-to-wallet communications. This enhances anonymity by giving users an option besides the typical IP/email address-based communications.
Innovative dRTC frameworks also use Insertable Streams and Sframes for robust end-to-end encryptions. This ensures better security against surveillance and censorship. It’s challenging for any unwarranted third party to intrude into these channels, which only verified participants can access.
On the other hand, breaking down siloed architectures and using globally distributed data points (nodes) gives dRTC a significant performance boost. Even users with weak internet connections can access high-quality A/V communications in this manner, democratizing access in unforeseen ways.
Most importantly, the wallet-based dRTC infrastructure is absolutely user-centric, as individuals remain in complete control of their data at all times. The community orientation of web3-native dRTC protocols ensures that rules are implemented or modified through consensus, not at the whims and fancy of any centralized entity. Unlike legacy RTC models, dRTC networks foster sovereign and circular economies where value ultimately returns to the community that produces it.
Thus, dRTC is the new frontier for digital communications, and its implications stretch beyond secure data and information sharing. It’s a way to provide genuine mechanisms for free speech and self-expression. Last but not least, dRTC will enable the socio-economic dApp paradigm. It’ll thus go a long way in making communities worldwide more robust, resilient, and self-sufficient, fostering inclusion and progress across the board.