International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), on 6 August 2019, filed a patent for a web browser that incorporates peer-to-peer distributed ledger technology to store browser events like browsing history and search queries on the blockchain.
What can be stored on the distributed network?
- user bookmarks,
- search words (e.g. in a word-based search engine),
- history of URLs visited,
- device used,
- internet protocol (IP) address of the user’s computer,
- textual content typed into entry forms,
- default/user settings (e.g., browser security settings), etc.
A transaction (that is added to the block) may be any web browser event associated with a user.
Key points discussed in the Patent application
- Lock-In Attribution: The system can create a permanent and unbreakable link between the user and his/her browsing information, which can be verified.
- Secure Share: The system can securely share a user’s digital browsing information with others. Transferring browsing information involves transferring browsing information record.
A blockchain-based browser, as the company puts it…
“…affords a system for storing browsing information such that privacy is preserved and places privacy in the ‘hands of a user’ rather than a third party.”
Although the authors of the patent intend (and hence mention) placing the privacy in the “hands of the user”, clarity on who the targeted end user is, is open to interpretation.
The patent is an interesting one, as it combines two seemingly unrelated pieces of technologies. The browser, a software piece as old as the internet itself, and the blockchain, a piece of tech as transformational as the internet itself.
It appears that IBM is looking at a use case of browsers which is yet to become mainstream, both in reality and in the imagination of end-users. The end-users could be people, governments, hospitals, organizations or a bunch of five people running a business — hosting their own browser, chat apps, self hosted cloud with a currency of their own.
If one could reflect on the choices of browsers available currently to the end users like us, there’s Chrome by Google, Edge (which is now dating Chrome in a way) by Microsoft, Firefox by Mozilla, Opera, Safari by Apple.
The browser is where all the action has taken place ever since the alphabet i started denoting the internet when placed in front of the name of a device like phone, pad, pod, mac, etc. The web browsers have become the single most important innovation to have occurred in the information era. There’s even a web browser-centric operating system that does most of what one would expect from a computer.
There is a lot of data moving through the gates of these browsers.
The norm of the industry these days reads somewhat like this:
IF there is DATA, TOKENIZE it and BLOCKCHAIN it. Else, generate more DATA. With sufficient data, put the ML and AI to work to derive useful patterns of understanding, a.k.a. INFORMATION, albeit abstracted for privacy reasons, which is where the cryptography comes in.
– every cutting edge companies’ research mission
And, who is this end user?
The prospect of keeping user behavior on the blockchain — forever, perpetually — especially with data points such as user bookmarks, search words (e.g. in a word-based search engine), history of URLs visited, time, geolocation, device used, IP address of the user’s computer, textual content typed into entry forms and default/user settings (e.g., browser security settings), is just unsettling, given that permanence is wasteful without a clear purpose from the onset.
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