Reinventing the Internet via blockchain


Wallace Lynch is founder and chief economist of the Alpha Token Foundation. He cofounded tech media startup SVInsight and service trading platform HSHub.

There is a lot of talk about online privacy these days. But nothing can really change the fact that in today’s mainstream digital reality, people who currently make use of the Internet are giving away personal data for free.

That’s why I developed Alpha Token, a cryptocurrency based on blockchain technology and designed specifically with digital rights in mind. The Alpha Token Foundation’s mission is to reinvent the digital ecosystem so that both content creators and ad viewers are fairly paid and protected.

In today’s digital world, a significant amount of your valuable time is taken up by viewing promoted content. You didn’t ask to see that ad for a new line of cosmetics, nor to be shown a pair of shoes recommended based on a recent online purchase. But your actions — whether you choose to click on a link, delete a pop-up window or report an ad — are all monetized.

Why are we doing this for free? Our opinions, our thoughts and our behaviors are valuable. We need to recapture that value by recapturing our data. Everyone who spends time looking at ads and commercials should be compensated. Everyone who chooses to let other parties use personal data or digital content should be compensated.

But holding onto your personal data is a challenge. With a platform like the Alpha Browser — a decentralized application that uses blockchain to search for information, connect with other users or publish your own content — things can be done differently. Your data is yours. No one, not even the platform, will be able to use or distribute it. Alpha Browser, which is currently utilized by test users while pending approval by Apple’s app review team, does not employ cookies, which means there is no functional module in the browser itself that could allow it to collect user browsing history.

A decentralized platform such as this guarantees a personalized, secure data space — whether a digital file or a physical storage space such as a hard drive on your computer — to which you and only you have access. By ensuring that your data is secure, this allows the content creator to reel in the financial value of that content — whether within one minute or one century from when it is created.

Most centralized publishing platforms like Google and Facebook lay claim to your intellectual property in their lengthy, legal jargon-filled terms of service and end user agreements. Chances are that many videos you’ve watched have been freebooted. Freebooting is the act of downloading someone else’s copyright-protected material, often from YouTube, and uploading it onto another platform’s video player.

But Alpha Browser has an integrated flagging system that reports and filters plagiarism and copy-cat digital content. It enables users to publish content into a secure ecosystem, protected by blockchain technology, which ensures that all transactions are traceable. This transparent model makes infringement rules more enforceable.

The decentralized browser will also enable a direct, peer-to-peer relationship between creators and their audiences. Once published, you can name the price for consumers to view that content. You personally broker all sales or sharing of that data and interact with the marketplace directly. Interested users will then pay you the advertised fee to read your article, watch your film, or listen to your podcast.

But of course, advertisers need to make a living, too. In the current digital world, platforms offer a pittance per thousands of views to their creators, while taking a massive cut from advertisers. In this paradigm, money mainly changes hands between the advertisers and the platforms. Creators are generally no more than an afterthought. As we have seen with the recent YouTube advertising hiccups, this is not an easy landscape for creators to survive in.

In a nutshell, advertisers will be able to directly compensate viewers without losing revenue to the platform. Say you’re promoting your line of home good products. You create an ad and indicate how much you will pay users to view, watch or listen to it. Users who see your ad through a deliberate search that matches your product — say they search for “mid-century ottoman” and you happen to have created an ad for a mid-century ottoman that you sell — can then choose to view your commercial and earn money while they watch. Besides deliberate search, users can browse lists to find new content.

The goal as an advertiser remains the same: to ensure you are connecting with the right audience for your product. Think of focus groups, in which people try out and analyze products in real life and are compensated for it. We are recreating this same model in the digital space.

Alpha Token is by no means the only way we will be able to reinvent our digital reality, but it’s an example of what could develop as an alternative to today’s mainstream digital platforms. Since its debut over nine years ago, Bitcoin surged exponentially beyond its initial value. Alpha Token will raise money through its initial coin offering next month — the cryptocurrency crowdfunding mode based on the financial public offering model. In the initial coin offering, a portion of the funds raised is sold to investors in token form, increasing market value of the currency itself. Appreciation of the Alpha Token currency therefore provides a business model that can grow and be further developed.

It is imperative to recognize that we have arrived at a crucial tipping point that will either liberate or further oppress our digital freedom. The solution is simple: to control our fate, we must control our data.

This was produced by The WorldPost, a partnership of the Berggruen Institute and The Washington Post.