Is the future of social networks decentralized?

Current social networks like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram mostly have a centralized approach ([1], [2], [6]). They are centralized in the sense, that all data is processed in data centers that are under a corporation’s control. It is hard to beat the economies of scale that can be achieved by having gigantic server farms which process the huge amounts of data that are being created. But there is a lot of merit in a more decentralized approach. Especially if that approach serves a purpose other than making money by selling user data or entrapping people’s brains in a loop of distraction and dopamine release.

Of course, decentralization alone is not the sole solution to this problem. But in centralized systems there is always the possibility of data being collected and sold. The cost of operating server farms also creates the need of making a profit. That’s why social networks nowadays are often heavily reliant on ad revenue which creates a need to make users as dependent as possible on the platform, so they spend more time on it.

Society could really benefit from a social network with the sole purpose of connecting people and without the need for psychological tricks or selling data to maximize profits. Social media platforms purposefully create echo chambers to keep engagement high which nurture more extreme opinions and further cement the divide between political camps [9]. Additionally, platforms like TikTok use algorithms to take advantage of the way people’s brains are wired to maximize their time spent on the platform. All while damaging people’s attention span in the process [4].

An ideal social media platform would therefore either need a different kind of monetarization like a monthly fee or it needs to be decentralized and work with a technology like peer-to-peer (P2P) to save on infrastructural costs. That way the load which is normally taken on by data centers could be moved to the clients.

Palantir: An uncanny company?

image of multiple hard disks

In the future data privacy could be one of the biggest issues of our time with growing supervision capabilities from big enterprises and governments. China is a telling example of what could happen if data privacy and anonymity on the internet is completely eroded. On the other hand, there is also a big potential benefit that could come from evaluating the vast data sources we have and using them for good, like stopping terror attacks and other criminal activity before it happens.

Palantir is a US based Data Mining enterprise that specializes in helping departments of state to evaluate big amounts of data. In the past it has come under criticism for its work with secret services and lack of transparency. One of the main tasks of Palantir is preemptively stopping criminal offenses [5]. The name ‘Palantir’ is a homage to the Lord of the Rings books from J.R.R. Tolkien [8]. In the books the so called ‘Palantíri’ are crystal balls, that can be used to communicate over long distances.

Palantir was founded in 2004 by Alex Karp, Peter Thiel, Joe Lonsdale, Stephen Cohen and Nathan Gettings. The investment firm In-Q-tel (a subsidiary of  the CIA) helped finance it [5]. Since then, Palantir grew steadily. It has more than 2500 employees and operates from 25 international company locations. The main location was moved from the Silicon Valley and is now in Denver.

In a recent interview the CEO Alex Karp said the following about the company’s goals:

“The core mission of our company always was to make the West, especially America, the strongest in the world, the strongest it’s ever been, for the sake of global peace and prosperity, and we feel like this year we really showed what that would mean”

Alexander Karp, 2019 [9]