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Rogue Data

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The datum has underscored the 21st century, the centerpiece of a digital age, of a civilization that has come to identify itself more through the abstractions of binary digits than through human instincts and senses.

As with most shifts and technological innovations, data had become a double-edged sword, positioning itself as both a powerful ally and a grave threat. The applications of data exist on a wide spectrum of possibility, in part owing to the characteristics of plain and simple information — the distillation and sublimation of which has continuously charmed our collective imaginations, and simultaneously brought out the worst in terms of privacy threats and abuse of power.

BIG DATA holds small promises

The technological instruments of the new millennium, seemingly came out of nowhere, have changed just about every part of our lives, and have also been paying close attention. We have often overlooked just how close. Information has always been heaped, put together, and locked away, benefiting only those who choose to listen.

This piece serves to reexamine the notions we take for granted — that our data is not ours to own; that it can be used against us — that it may serve no better purpose than to peddle us our own predilections and desires. Have we really spent the last decade living under false pretenses, to be thoroughly bamboozled, defrauded and ripped off?

By siphoning off the history of our digital selves, bit-by-bit, in exchange for a free game of Candy Crush, have we lost track of that which is truly valuable?

On the 17th of March, 2018, media houses sung chorused echoes diverting the world’s attention, first towards an entity made popular through a controversial American presidential campaign, and later, towards everyone’s least favorite but singular choice for social networking.

The former is Cambridge Analytica, a British company accused of influencing global politics through any means necessary with the help of private data. And where did the data come from? All fingers currently point towards the latter — Facebook.

With the latest exposé, the life of the social media giant seems abruptly close to an impassive funeral. As survey after survey has shown, not many people seem to like, let alone trust, the company anymore. Its existence has repeatedly been mired in one controversy after another and the recent disclosure might well serve the final nail in the coffin.

But we know better than to believe in fairytales; is there such a thing as definitive digital death?

And what about all that data?

While the Ghost of Facebook Past might haunt us for some time to come, it’s not too late to take back control. But can we foresee a future where the producer of data is not mere product but sole proprietor?

With the emergence of blockchain technology, we may well be witnessing the birth of such a future. **In the same way the Internet provides borderless and anonymous sharing of information, the blockchain provides borderless and anonymous sharing of value. **The blockchain coupled with smart-contracts enables trust-less transactions without the need for intermediaries. In other words, people can trade value without even knowing each other.

But how does this lead to a future where people own their data?

Trust-less exchange radically altered the world through the conception of cryptocurrencies. It has similarly altered the way in which we store and exchange data. After all, what are digital currencies if not data?

As the blockchain theoretically provides information with immutability, smart-contracts give the authors a mathematical way to copyright their data and a rightful authority over the use of that data. This is not science fiction. There are services out there that do just this.

The Proof-of-Concept

H yperbridge Technology is currently developing Dataforce: a smart-contract-enabled blockchain that will enable users to store, secure and monetize data that they generate. Data produced may be exchanged for use by applications hosted on the Dataforce network which require that data. Smart-contracts provide users access and control; the blockchain — transparency and trust. In other words, Dataforce pays you, the user, for what you share.

With this incentive, the hope is that users flock to systems that treat their information with more concern. The underlying technology brings inherent benefits. In the same way you can’t copy a Bitcoin, you can’t steal encrypted user data.

In an ideal world, the legislation of ex post facto laws could criminalize the use of data captured by Facebook without proper user consent over the course of its existence, however, no laws can reverse time. Our data is still out there and always will be. Our best hope is to look back and acknowledge the mistakes of the past so that we may conceive a better future and prevent the birth of yet another Cambridge Analytica.

A shift in priorities

In our increasingly connected and technological world we are increasingly reminded that personal information must be secured. With changing times, it is often easy to lose track of that which is truly valuable. Information is no longer as straightforward, no longer exists in physical form, and can no longer be easily destroyed or locked away.

But the quest through the digital age must not be one of fear. The binary sword of data also holds tremendous possibility. It lays the path to a grand future, one that is rational, hyperconnected, artificially intelligent, and shines through the abundance brought forth through our collective imagination.