An increasing number of people want to fix the flaws of the internet by decentralizing it, including Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the world wide web, Mozilla Foundation, the nonprofit organization that supports the Firefox browser and other open-source tools, and Richard Hendricks, the protagonist of HBO’s Silicon Valley.
But what’s wrong with the current internet, and isn’t it already decentralized?
The internet is physically decentralized; no single entity owns it. But large, centralized services support its critical components such as web hosting, cloud computing, DNS services, social media, search engines, email services, and more. These services rely on resources concentrated in a limited number of physical or virtual servers. This approach makes it more convenient for companies to keep their services maintained.
But the same centralized architecture has created problems. If the servers of these entities go down, we lose access to vital functionality. If they get hacked, we lose our data. If they decide to monetize our data in unlawful ways or hand it over to government agencies, we likely won’t learn about it. If they decide to censor or prioritize content based on their interests, we won’t be able to do anything about it.
In short, we’ve entrusted these entities with too much power, and they’ve become too big to fail.