Is IBM’s Potential Blockchain Web Browser a Security Risk?

IBM’s involvement in blockchain may have taken a step in an unexpected direction if a recently-filed patent is anything to go by. The patent, filed last week, is for a “blockchain web browser interface” that “records and maintains a record of browser events in a blockchain using a peer-to-peer network.” The move shows that IBM is expanding their already heavy presence in the blockchain world, but is a blockchain-powered web browser really what users want in the fight to retain their data, or would it in fact lead to huge personal security risks?

Preservation of Privacy?

On the surface, IBM’s aim with the browser seems to be to give control over a user’s data back to them rather than it resting with the browser software, with the aim of ensuring that “privacy is preserved and places privacy in the “hands of a user” rather than a third party.” This may open up the possibility of users being able to sell their browsing data in exchange for tokens, which, in a world dominated by corporations collecting and harvesting our data without our consent, could be a big step towards users taking back control of their own data. IBM states that use of a blockchain-based system will also, for example, allow them to improve privacy/security breach detection through “real-time advanced vulnerability scanning and malicious intent detection algorithms”, with computer backups sitting on the blockchain so they can always be retrieved in case of a complete system failure.

Blockchain Not Needed

This may sound all well and good, but it overlooks the fact that none of this requires the blockchain. Options exist for storing backups in the cloud, and moving data collection from a browser and into the hands of the individual is not blockchain-dependent. We then have to ask the question of exactly how users benefit from having all their internet behavior across all devices registered on an immutable ledger. The short answer is they don’t, and at a time when governments are looking for ways to crack the blockchain and reveal user activity, having an individual’s entire internet usage history saved forever on an immutable blockchain is akin to printing it all out, leaving it in a vault and handing the authorities the key.

Work Needs to be Done

Of course, it’s easy to be harsh on a patent, which doesn’t always lead to a finished product and is simply a way of copyrighting an idea, but the fact remains that in its purest form, it is not currently a tempting proposition for users. Very few will want to have their data stored on a permanent record, and the promise of increased security and a few tokens if they sell it off will not be a big enough incentive. If IBM is able to build this into a workable, secure platform where the upsides outweigh the bad then it could be a viable proposition, but analyzing the seeds of the idea doesn’t make the potential fruit seem particularly tasty.

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