Long before COVID-19, we were talking about how decentralization could change the world and solve pressing issues like access to healthcare, climate change, and banking the unbankable. How decentralization could correct many of the problems created by cloud-based, centralized social media and give users the ability to control and protect their personal information. Contact tracing has ignited a global conversation about decentralization—and if there was ever a time for people to understand the importance of decentralization, it’s now.
Contact tracing apps are designed to quickly identify those who have been exposed to the virus so they can isolate and avoid spreading it further. However, there is a cost to 24/7 contact tracing—and the cost is your right to privacy, as well as your right to own and access all the data collected by the contact tracing apps.
Everyone has different opinions about contact tracing apps and now that includes why decentralizing them is the best solution.Thanks to Apple and Google, more people understand that in order to protect our civil liberties (such as the right of privacy)—we need to decentralize and store the location data on the user’s phone, not in the Cloud.
See this BBC News article: Coronavirus: German contact-tracing app takes different path to NHS
It can be challenging to explain what decentralization is and why it is important—but that is changing. The COVID-19 pandemic and the contact tracing technology developed by Apple and Google have made the word decentralization part of the popular vernacular. It is great to hear the biggest tech companies promoting decentralization as the best way to protect user privacy because it confirms what we have been saying for years.
An Opportunity for Change
This week I participated in a virtual roundtable discussion on Organizing Decentralization for Societal benefit at UBC. A diverse group from academia, government, and private industry discussed applications of decentralized technologies like blockchain and distributed ledger to the benefit of society.
It was really cool to hear from different companies pursuing decentralization for the good of the public—like one company that is building a solution to track Global Carbon offset purchases to prevent double counting. This seems like an intuitive application of a blockchain, built for decentralization.
We discussed many ways decentralization can provide societal benefit but none is more important than protecting your right to privacy and ownership of your digital identity. After all, you need an identity to access government services like healthcare (especially during a pandemic)—why wouldn’t you want your digital identity to be secure and in your control?
It seems like necessity is not only the mother of invention—it is the mother of intention too. Talking about decentralization is one thing, doing something about it is another—and now we are better prepared to do both.