On February 11th, Harvard Law School organized a public event in which Mark Zuckerberg and International Law professor Jonathan Zittrain discussed the societal responsibilities of Facebook and how these can be guaranteed through technology and precautions in governance. More specifically, the discussion centered around topics such as end-to-end encryption, quality content curation, fact-checking, data-as-a-currency, data fiduciaries and decentralized tech.
What does this mean?
Most interestingly, the conversation shows that decentralized tech and the way it could affect Facebook is top of mind with its management. Implicitly, it seems that Facebook is anticipating a phased roll-out of decentralized tech. In this roll-out, blockchain-driven identity management and authentication is attainable in the short term, whereas a decentralized data vault (e.g. Solid, Blockstak) or a fully decentralized social platform is further away as distributed computing is not yet powerful enough. Given this roadmap, it will become interesting how this will influence Facebook’s long-term strategy.
Given Facebook’s business model, it is not in their direct interest to decentralize their platform and give away control over their user’s data. Nevertheless, given the growing expectations from society and the emergence of decentralized alternatives, it is not far-fetched that at some point Facebook will have to orchestrate their own disruption (of its centralized model) in order to remain in the driver’s seat by determining the terms of decentralization and prolonging their current business model. Consequently, Facebook developing a decentralized identity and/or data management system, or Facebook making themselves compatible with these types of decentralized services could become a likely scenario. When these scenarios materialize, competing businesses, governments and citizens might gain more control over the way data is used.