In a classic case of economic externalities, privacy has become the hot issue in the Digital Industrial Complex. It’s the industrial pollution equivalent of the digital era. There’s a lot of attention going to startups which circumvent or avoid centralisation of their services, or use what is becoming known as Block Chain technology. In fact famed Venture Capitalist Fred Wilson is calling their 2014 fund the Block Chain cycle. In simple terms, startups in which the information is distributed across the network of users, rather than stored in the companies server farms.
It got me thinking about how what seem like minor road bumps can become the key factors which entirely disrupt companies and industries. Privacy could be the type of road bump which up ends businesses, whose infrastructure is based on an old method. That method being, centralised data aggregation and distribution. I’m talking about brands like Google and Facebook. Companies who at this very moment seem entirely infallible, simply too important, big and powerful to ever lose their position of dominance. Personally, I don’t think it will happen, because unfortunately most people have a level of apathy where they usually don’t care about a potential problem until it really becomes one. And even then they sometimes still don’t care – just look at the climate change issue. Why this is interesting is that the thing which disrupted the recording industry, the retail industry and many others was that the infrastructure they set up became a distinct disadvantage. I’m starting to wonder if internet based companies with centralised data systems are creating an infrastructure which isn’t in line with a shift which technology seems to wants to make happen. The shift to distributed data.
Some recent numbers on a search engine called Duck Duck Go – a privacy based search engine are interesting. It is growing rapidly. Here’s a description of what they do straight from Wikipedia:
DuckDuckGo is an Internet search engine that emphasizes protecting searchers’ privacy and avoiding the filter bubble of personalized search results. DuckDuckGo distinguishes itself from other search engines by not profiling its users and by deliberately showing all users the same search results for a given search term. DuckDuckGo also emphasizes getting information from the best sources rather than the most sources, generating its search results from key crowd sourced sites such as Wikipedia..
Here’s a chart of the recent growth that Duck Duck Go has achieved:
While this search engine doesn’t operate on a distributed system, it is interesting to see how a slightly different proposition to the incumbent can have a lot of meaning to groups of end users. Yes, it’s tiny in the scheme of search, but this is how change begins. Every disruptor was insignificant at some point. And we’ve already seen the disruptors being disrupted. For example streaming music impacting iTunes business in the space of under 10 years. It seems like dominance occurs in shorter life spans now.
The key thing that we shouldn’t forget is that once powerful organisations can fall quickly. They seem infallible, untouchable. But the two things we ought remember are that companies like Ford once had a Google-like air about them and in a digital world the barriers to entry and dissemination of change are lower than ever.