What If We Lived in an Open Data Economy?

In an excerpt from their latest book, our experts imagine a world where we’re in control of our own online experience.

Published on Mar. 12, 2024
What If We Lived in an Open Data Economy?
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America, despite everything, represents the dream of the possible. We think it’s now time for all of us to start to dream of something better for the next generation of the internet. So, let’s indulge ourselves in that dream.

Before we do, an important caveat: As with the nineteenth-century United States to which my ancestors migrated, where half of the nation continued to support the heinous slave trade, the new internet will not be an unblemished utopia. Bad actors will still do bad things. There will be scams and manipulative conspiracy theories and stupid memes and toxic behavior. Sadly, humans gonna human.

What’s different is that this new internet will not be structured in a way that incentivizes bad behavior. Since there’s no longer a clique of uber-platforms deploying algorithms whose reward system encourages extremist views or seeks to shape our behavior in their profit interest, space will open up for moderate voices and decent behavior.

Improving society and addressing its many on- and offline challenges will be a work in progress. What this new framework gives us is a chance to make a fresh start. As with tens of millions of past and present immigrants to the United States, that’s all we are asking for.

11 Ways We Could Improve the Internet

  • You have one personal digital identity instead of multiple logins and passwords.
  • You choose what you see, not algorithms.
  • You own your digital property rights.
  • You decide who sees your digital content.
  • Surveillance platforms can’t track you without your permission.
  • You can move your social data graph at will.
  • You’re in charge of how your data is used.
  • Data storage is decentralized.
  • Our combined social graph data is publicly owned.
  • Apps, platforms and AI agents all speak the same computer language.
  • Fake accounts and bots are actively penalized.

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What Would an Ideal Internet Look Like?

Welcome to the NewNet.

This is simply our first stab at a name for the third-generation, people-centric internet, the successor to the second-generation version, the internet of data, which followed the first version, the internet of machines. We welcome other suggestions but feel strongly that naming the new internet is an important first step for all of us to stake a collective claim of ownership over it.

To start with, here are some defining features of the NewNet.


Personal digital identity

You are recognized as a person, not a machine with an IP address, when you log on to the internet. You have one login, not a mountain of vulnerable passwords.



You decide what goes into your or your children’s news feeds. You, not the platforms, choose what you read, view or listen to. And, without the monopolies and walled gardens, you have an abundance of services and apps to choose from.


Digital property rights

You own whatever digital content you create, you own your social graph data and you own the right to monetize it.


Autonomous permission

You decide who sees your content and connects with you. You decide if and when to revoke that access.


Opt in, not opt out

You choose when to signal your interest in something. You don’t have to tell an application or platform not to surreptitiously track you with cookies and other surveillance tools that target you.



You can move your social graph data — your contacts, playlists, friends, followers and so forth — wherever you like, from one application or platform to another in a form that is operational.


Individual terms and conditions

Rather than clicking on the terms and conditions of use pushed to you by a few huge platforms, you set the rules by which your data can be used.


Decentralized storage

The information of the internet is no longer stored in data centers monopolized by a few mega-companies. It is distributed across a vast array of autonomous computers with no central entity in charge.


A public network effect

Since the aggregate of our combined social graph data can no longer be monopolized by one company, the network effect that delivers value solely to the biggest actors is no longer theirs. The network effect is now a public good. Any innovative application builder or service provider can tap into it with permission.



Apps, platforms and AI agents all talk to one another within compatible computing languages and cross-platform assets. There are no more walled gardens.



Just as there are consequences if you show up in the real world as a fake person, there are now consequences if you show up on the internet as a fake person. This includes consequences for bots that create fake personas. Your rights to keep your data private and to use pseudonymous avatars and identifiers are still protected as necessary to keep you safe, but lying about who you are is no longer a profitable undertaking unto itself. We all benefit from an internet made of people, not fakes and phonies.

If this is a world you want, then what can you do to make it a reality?

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How You Can Better Your Online Experience Right Now

Well, some steps you can take on your own. With the ease of your smartphone, laptop or PC, explore self-sovereign identity solutions. You can download a self-sovereign wallet to help you engage with new applications based on decentralized data standards that adopt decentralized social networking protocol. Seek out AI providers building on transparent, open-source and decentralized data processing models.

When you do, say goodbye to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al. You won’t be needing them anymore. Our Biggest Fight coverAnd if you want to learn more or if, perhaps, you have coding knowledge or other programming skills and would like to contribute to the technology, or simply wish to follow the progress as the NewNet is built, we suggest you check out this site.

The real change comes when we all act together. We want everyone to empower themselves and be an agent of it. Get the word out. Spark conversation and debate. Urge your friends and contacts to join you in the migration to the NewNet. Form new groups with them, employing whatever self-governance models you all feel are best. And in your workplace, where employees have long been important drivers of policy changes, make the case to management for embracing new business models that will thrive in an open data economy.

Spread the word: There’s a NewNet.

From David Quirke, a creative strategist and Irish raconteur, we heard a great suggestion for describing these action items in computing terms familiar to any PC user: Ctrl, Alt, Del, Esc. Take control of your data. Migrate to an alternative model. Delete the old one. And escape to a better web, for a better world.

It’s your choice.

Excerpted from OUR BIGGEST FIGHT by Frank H. McCourt, Jr. with Michael J. Casey. Copyright © 2024 by Frank H. McCourt, Jr. Excerpted by permission of Crown. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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