The blockchain technology underpinning Ethereum has finally gone public, with the MetaMask wallet being available through an app on the Google Play Store as well as the iOS Store for mobile users to download and use. This has huge implications for user privacy, as the blockchain has promised greater control and privacy for users ever since it was launched, but it was unavailable to the general public, even as Ethereum became a $53 billion market.
Up until now, MetaMask had only been available as a browser extension, which allowed users to connect their cryptocurrency wallets to websites where access to the Ethereum network was needed. With the app, people will now be able to control and limit the amount of information they share with these sites. For example, users can now create multiple Ethereum accounts to use at different sites, rather than providing a single account number which would then be linked to multiple websites. MetaMask and other similar wallets are at the forefront of what developers are calling Web 3, where users will have more control over their privacy and data, and internet services are decentralized. The current model, known as Web 2, sees user data such as location, search history and login frequency tracked, collected and sold, usually without the user’s consent.
Blockchain has long been touted as the technology which will revolutionize the internet, and it has already begun to be adopted in multiple settings and sectors. One of the sectors at the forefront of this adoption has been the casino sector, where there are multiple online gambling sites which use cryptocurrencies for payments and withdrawals. Such sites have become known as crypto casinos, and are a useful example to show how these methods can be brought into the mainstream. At the same time, it is important to note why Web 2 developed the way it did, and how Web 3 will be different. There is no underlying payment mechanism in Web 2, which meant that user data became extremely important, and thus became a commodity to be sold to the relevant companies. MetaMask will allow users to control what data they leave behind on websites, giving them the option to segregate and separate the data that is provided to different websites. MetaMask has seen a beta testing round with around 100,000 people, compared to the 400,000 who usually use the browser extension.
While there are not too many sites out there using Web 3 protocols, video games have been early adopters. For example, there are games now where you can buy an item, say a sword, which can then be used across other games, through the common wallet. Another application which is being seen immediately is in the world of finance. Financial applications have had a long-standing problem of middlemen, which often reduces the returns to investors, while at the same time, their coding has been shoddy or inefficient, leaving them open to malicious attacks. For example, Project Yam Finance raised over $750 million, but then crashed within days after a bug made the app inaccessible for users. This has been seen as a cautionary tale by the industry, where founders and tech innovators are now taking the time to ensure that the code is written properly. Most founders also want their investors to put in money for years, not days, and so ensuring them of the security of their money is paramount.
The fact that MetaMask is now available to use through mobile phones is a gamechanger. Growth in all these related sectors is likely to accelerate, while users will be able to now control their data over a wider range of websites and applications.