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Democratizing Technology: Web3 and the Future of the Internet

Web3 promises a future World Wide Web far different from the centralized, hyperscaled, and structurally authoritarian era of web2. MITRE offers policy recommendations that complement government, industry, and academic efforts to advance web3 and increase user adoption.

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The architecture of today’s World Wide Web is, in many ways, an authoritarian one—built around a business model and technology stack that rewards vertical integration, massive aggregation of user data, and hyperscale centralized management. This architecture has provided benefits in terms of society-wide connectivity and scalable use cases, but comes at the cost of user privacy and autonomy, and domination of this crucial facet of modern life by a few enormous firms.  Worse, this architecture facilitates surveillance not simply by profit-maximizing hyperscaler service providers, but also—in authoritarian regimes—by the repressive state entities to which such providers are answerable.  China, for instance, is harnessing data to manage and control the lives of its people by requiring them to use software that defines a new precedent for forms of automated social control. 

The authoritarian cost of today’s web2 architecture developments call for a response, but it is not enough to denounce the impact of the web2 technology stack on human rights, privacy, and democratic norms.  We also need a better answer: the establishment and advancement of alternative technological paradigms to protect the public interest by making authoritarian misuse difficult or impossible. 

Web3 technology can help provide an offset strategy to counter the rise of authoritarian and surveillance-facilitating regimes. This paper expands on previous MITRE publications discussing web3 by describing how earlier web-related technology stacks and economic modes have led to data centralization, and how much of this centralization within web2 can be unwound by web3; it also presents use cases where an alternative paradigm is already starting to take hold. Most visibly, this is already happening with decentralized finance and cryptocurrency, but web3 can decentralize any digital service.

As new protocols are considered for web3, this paper offers the following specific policy recommendations that complement government, industry, and academic efforts to advance this technology and increase user adoption: 

  1. Develop a combined national security/economic security strategy that can maximize the benefits of a new decentralized payment system while mitigating illicit financial activities;
  2. Advance global decentralized digital identity and digital data technologies to protect citizen privacy;
  3. Promote accessibility standards to reduce burden of technology adoption;
  4. Address the needs of the underbanked/unbanked by maturing prototype digital asset solutions; and
  5. Convene international partners and advance an inclusive vision to strengthen democratic values, and protect citizens from threat actors, and develop and promote a decentralized, web3-facilitated response to the global growth of the authoritarian technology stack. 

Web3 promises a future World Wide Web far different from the centralized, hyperscaled, and structurally authoritarian era of web2. It could form a robust and decentralized, democratized alternative to the existing technology stack, but there is much to do to make web3 a reality, make it safe and reliable, and equip it to fulfill its potential.