Previously known as Facebook, tech giant Meta has found itself at the center of several recent scandals. The release of the Facebook papers revealed that the company knew, among several issues, about the mental health impact of Instagram on girls and the spread of misinformation during the latest US presidential election. From its decision to discontinue its facial recognition system to its new antitrust lawsuit, the tech giant continues to face criticism in the aftermath of its rebranding.
The development of Web 3.0 offers an alternative which would limit the power of Meta. A broad movement of technologies, Web 3.0 aims to connect software to users without the need of intermediaries. Its goals include making the web more decentralized, verifiable, and secure. True to these goals, no central authority is controlling the development of Web 3.0.
Ethereum and Bitcoin are currently important components of Web 3.0’s development and exemplify its goals. These cryptocurrencies are two separate decentralized, open-source blockchains that have far-reaching financial, legal, and social implications. As its name suggests, a blockchain is built from a growing list of blocks, where each block is a basic data structure. These pieces of data are then linked together and verified using cryptography, a practice that ensures security from third parties.
Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood wrote about the need for Web 3.0 to replace the current reliance on Web 2.0. “Consider Web 3.0 to be an executable Magna Carta,” Wood wrote, “‘the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.’” Wood pointed to the intermediaries of Web 2.0, “platform monopolies like Google and Facebook,” as the despots of Web 2.0.
“If society does not adopt the principles of Web 3.0 for its digital platform,” Wood continued, “it runs the risk of continued corruption and eventual failure, just as medieval feudal systems and Soviet-style communism proved untenable in a world of modern democracies.”
Wood is not the first to warn against today’s status quo in favor of advocating for where tomorrow’s technologies can advance society. Timothy May’s Crypto Anarchist Manifesto (1988) warns that the government “will of course try to slow or halt the spread” of the technological developments, prophesying their far-reaching consequences.
“Technological developments.” May wrote more than three decades ago, “will alter completely the nature of government regulation, the ability to tax and control economic interactions, the ability to keep information secret, and will even alter the nature of trust and reputation.” Less than a decade later, John Perry Barlow’s Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace (1996) created a distinction between those who “come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind” and the “Governments of the Industrial World.”
“We are forming our own Social Contract,” Barlow wrote. “This governance will arise according to the conditions of our world, not yours. Our world is different.” This Social Contract that Barlow envisioned would create a veritably utopian world in which “all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.”
Web 3.0’s goals of decentralization, verifiability, and security aim to uphold a vision similar to that of Barlow’s Social Contract. “The Internet is becoming its own nation,” Juan Benet said at The Web3 Summit 2018. Founder and CEO of the blockchain-based Protocol Labs, Benet addressed the implications of smart contracts on Web 3.0. These contracts are a type of computer program which runs on a blockchain and cannot be directly modified once deployed. “It’s a proto-jurisdiction,” said Benet. “It’s a computable bomb.”
With its widespread consequences, the technologies of Web 3.0 could unleash a “computable bomb” on the current financial and legal framework. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has addressed the issues that cryptocurrencies raise to the financial market. In a July 2021 Public Statement, two SEC Commissioners wrote, “Digital landscape is evolving and decentralized finance is challenging financial products, intermediation, and financial markets.”
Chair of the SEC Gary Gensler also spoke out against the consequences of cryptocurrencies in the market. “We need additional Congressional authorities to prevent transactions, products, and platforms from falling between regulatory cracks,” said Gensler. “We also need more resources to protect investors in this growing and volatile sector.”
Primavera De Filippi’s and Aaron Wright’s Blockchain and the Law address additional ways in which new technologies might not be compatible with the current financial and legal framework Due to their transnational operations and anonymous nature, De Filippi and Wright explain how blockchain technologies can be used to commit illicit financial activities such as money laundering, online gambling, or trading fraud. Because blockchain makes it harder to censor information, De Filippi and Wright also caution that the new technology can lead to widespread misinformation. The authors also discuss how the advent of smart contracts holds the potential to undermine current contract law.
De Filippi and Wright not only address how new technologies can undercut the law, but also how they can support the law. New developments can be used to guarantee the integrity and authenticity of key governmental information, anchor public infrastructure, and manage the operations of legal entities. De Filippi and Wright address ways in which the government can regulate these developments by holding end-users accountable, pressuring software developers to maintain some level of intermediary control, and actively encoding the government’s current framework into the technology.
Against the backdrop of the recent array of Meta scandals, Web 3.0 offers a solution to limit the power of intermediaries, like Meta, on the lives of users. With its decentralized framework, Web 3.0 gives users the power to create their own online community. Users will be able to make decisions regarding issues such as how to approach the mental health impact of technology on girls or the spread of misinformation. Without intermediaries, users will also be guaranteed more data privacy.
That said, still in its development, whether Web 3.0 will achieve its goals and the implications of those goals remain unclear.
Jaimee Francis is a first-year law student at Boston University School of Law. Prior to beginning her legal studies, Ms. Francis earned her Bachelor of Science from the Georgia Institute of Technology.