Decentralized won’t fix unethical behavior

I’m a big fan of decentralized solutions and advocate for them a lot. But the claim by technologists for building decentralized services as a response to unethical behavior is wrong. If we try to solve the underlying humanitarian issue with technology, nothing changes. Decentralized services are a good idea to share responsibility and own your data. But they’re not going to prevent people from abusing technology for harvesting user data.

It’s a common misunderstanding that decentralized services can’t be evil. But this is only based on the idealism by the people who build these solutions. Some advantages that decentralized services have is that they make it harder to put censorship rules in place. They also allow people to own their data. But nothing prevents people from tracking your behavior, serving fake news, or selling your data. It sometimes can be even much harder to identify such issues in a decentralized service.

The decentralized service allows everyone to run their own service. In reality, there are a handful of instances that serve the majority of users. At this point, the service is only theoretically decentralized. In practice, the only difference to a centralized place is that people can choose between a couple of services to join. The tricky part is that every instance decides their rules on their own. So whether the service is placing ads, tracking scripts, or removes sensitive content is up to the instance owner. It’s not easy to find out whether an instance is a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ one. Especially for non-tech people who aren’t able to dig into the source code and read the network traffic this can be impossible.

Don’t get me wrong, please: I value the goal behind building more decentralized services. It helps the Internet to get more independent again.

But key to building better services is not building decentralized services. It’s embracing ethical behavior and stop blindly building stuff that isn’t thoughtful or could harm children.

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