Synereo & Why We Need To Decentralize Social Networks
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Synereo is a new decentralized application platform which has just announced the launch of its first alpha release, scheduled for September 2016. Although the platform itself will be capable of running a wide variety of decentralized apps (DApps) built by independent developers, the flagship application is a decentralized social network being built by the team themselves.
Today’s Social Media is Broken
The rise of social media and social networking sites has been one of the most powerful trends shaping society itself and influencing our daily lives in the last decade.
But as this trend has taken shape it has also become clear that it has served to concentrate a great deal of power into a very small number of hands. As much as people complain about the traditional media all being owned and controlled by a small number of uber-powerful global corporations, the situation is actually much worse when you look at social networking sites and apps.
This small number of people have total control over what has become the dominant way in which many people today communicate with each other and access information about the world around them. They have total control over what information we see and what gets hidden or removed, as well as who is able to successfully use their platform to become a social influencer. Often, we also entrust to them large amounts of our most personal information and experiences.
Recent history has shown that these people are not above using this power to further political agendas or in the pursuit of their own personal interests.
For example, the FacebookCensorship.com website lists many hundreds of examples of the social networking giant using its power to delete posts or ban users in a politically biased way, including extensive cooperation with less than savoury governments regimes around the world. This is a site which has also been caught manipulating its trending news section to suppress right wing opinions in favour of Zuckerberg’s left wing politics, and even doctoring which of your friends posts you see to manipulate your emotions in a secret mind control experiment which I personally find truly chilling in the attitude it shows Facebook has towards its users.
Twitter has also admitted to political censorship and has taken a large number of actions which drew accusations of bias, including a recent episode in which they banned famous American conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos.
Meanwhile, the entire business model of these sites is based around collecting and exploiting large amounts of personal data about their users, which raises serious privacy concerns and leaves users vulnerable to having their data stolen by hackers. It can also leave you getting a bad deal from the businesses you use – for example if an advertiser knows you have a good income and have a personality profile likely to go for impulse purchases under certain conditions do you think they will offer you a good deal? No, they will charge you extra or present you with their most expensive deals because they can, and because their job is to squeeze you for every penny they can.
In the past, the power of media organisations was obvious – an attentive reader / viewer could clearly see the particular political allegiance or bias of media they consumed, and could freely choose which sources to go to in order to get their information. But the secretive way in which social media giants exert their influence behind the scenes without their users realizing what is happening makes it even more insidious, powerful, and dangerous. What’s more, this influence is exerted over the choices that we are presented with in the first place rather than the media itself, limiting our choices and making alternative perspectives effectively invisible to us.
What A Social Network Should Look Like
The problems described above all stem from the centralization of power over the way we communicate and share information into the hands of a small number of people. The solution, therefore, seems obvious to me – de-centralization.
New peer-to-peer technology such as the blockchain provide an exciting new opportunity to take power away from these moguls and distribute it back into the hands of ordinary people. According to Dor Konforty, the CEO of Synereo who is trying to do exactly that:
“5 years from now, an entity wielding such immense power centrally – like Facebook – will simply not make sense to us.”
Synereo is not the only project aiming to transform social media, but they do serve as a great example of the benefits that new decentralized technologies can offer consumers.
Anything published through Synereo is encrypted and recorded onto a public blockchain which no individual person or organisation can control. As Konforty assured me, this means that:
Synereo has zero access or control over information on the network. There’s nothing Synereo can do that relates to user identity or data on the network. Neither Synereo nor any external party can take down information or users from the net.
Of course some filtering is often necessary, to cut down the massive amounts of information available to us into a more easily consumable digest. But rather than this filtering taking place in private and outside of our control, according to rules we don’t know and often in somebody else’s interests, it takes place in an open manner with the user themselves remaining in control.
Simply put, if you interact a lot with somebody’s posts, you are more likely to see their posts prominently in the future. In addition, users will be presented with sliders that they can use to increase the prominence of certain types of content. To handle highly objectionable material, a community driven moderation and arbitration system is being developed.
As part of Synereo’s ‘attention economy’, certain posts can be boosted by spending the app’s internal currency called ‘AMPs’. This allows advertisers to boost the visibility of their content by increasing the probability of it appearing in users’ feeds. But it does this using attention and interaction as the basis, rather than by exploiting your personal data – and as a bonus regular users get rewarded with a share of the profits when they interact with posts that have been boosted in this way.
All of the personal data which you enter into your profile gets encrypted and can only be viewed by people you have chosen to allow to see it. Not even Synereo themselves, or their advertisers, can access any information about you that you haven’t chosen to share specifically with them.
In my opinion this can help to protect consumers from predatory advertising techniques as well as countering more general privacy concerns. It is natural and psychologically healthy to take a slightly different persona in different situations according to what is most appropriate and what you are most comfortable with – sharing personal information, photos or stories with everybody rather than specific groups is not healthy, so allowing users full control over what they share with who is very important. And because blockchains are massively harder to hack into than company servers, users can be confident that their data will not be stolen by criminals.
The fact that Synereo is primarily a protocol, with the social network they are building only an add-on atop of that protocol, also adds a new layer of user-control to the mix. Ultimately, other people will be able to develop apps on top of the same protocol, allowing users to freely choose which apps they want to use and more easily switch between apps rather than being stuck within the walled garden of a single site or app which you feel you have to use just because its the one which everybody else uses.