Blockchain could solve one of the biggest search engine problems

Search engines are a fundamental part of the web browsing experience, but users are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the quantity of personal data that goes into curating results.

Until recently, it had seemed impossible for users to benefit from search functionalities enabled by their data without handing it over to a third party, but there are some that believe blockchain technology can help deliver the best of both worlds.

We caught up with Kurt Nielsen, co-founder and President at Partisia Blockchain, to find out about the potential impact of blockchain on the search market, SEO and the online advertising industry.

What aspects of Partisia blockchain make it suitable for search engines?

Partisia Blockchain solves primarily for privacy and interoperability. The collaboration with Better Internet Search will gradually explore different ways to personalize searching without compromising privacy. Through the use of public and private smart contracts, Partisia Blockchain provides the infrastructure for privacy preserving digital agents that automatically brings the users data into play on demand without exposing the data itself. For example, a search machine can be directed to rank search results according to a user’s private preferences without the user sharing those preferences.

What advantages does a Partisia-powered search engine offer, in addition to privacy?

Partisia Blockchain makes it possible to leverage users’ private data without sharing this sensitive information with anyone else. This has the potential to turn the power structure in the internet economy upside down! The business model behind Better Internet Search allows the users to benefit from this controlled use of private information.

In terms of privacy, what advantages does Partisia offer over other privacy-enhancing methodologies?

Partisia Blockchain leverages so-called zero-knowledge computation and secure multiparty computation (MPC), in particular. This cutting-edge technology allows a distributed set of computers to compute directly on encrypted data without knowing anything about the data involved in the computations, which allows for zero-knowledge computation. Data is then protected in all of its possible states: at rest, in transit, and in use. Traditional security measures do not allow for this somewhat contradicting property; that a user can control their own data even though it is being used by a third party service. This groundbreaking integration solves for one of the most pressing issues facing people today: privacy.

We are leveraging advanced cryptography to eliminate the otherwise basic trade-off between privacy and personalisation. To the best of our knowledge, no alternative project allows for the use of private data to provide the same user friendly experience as traditional services without data sharing. This is one of the many ways in which our platform is unique. The alternatives to the current online advertisement market based on tracking and connecting user data without involving the user, is to offer services that limit tracking. While positive, this hampers the revenue stream that finances many services and reduces the possibility to personalise these services. Making the user a direct partner with a fair revenue share in the data economy is part of the solution. What we are offering, however, is a platform that removes this trade-off by compensating the users for the use of their data and not for sharing their data.

Can you give us an idea of the kind of computational overhead in using Partisia?

The use of MPC often involves significant computational overhead compared to computation in clear text. Partisia is a pioneer in this field, as we carried out the first commercial use of MPC in 2008 and since then the computation has become a million times faster. Computational overhead, however, is still an important challenge and the way MPC and similar technologies are used need to account for this. 

With Better Internet Search we are working together to develop an alternative that is both privacy-preserving and completely ad-free. This new alternative search engine, rather than using valuable processing power and bandwidth to serve ads to users, leverages advanced algorithms to prioritise the search results that searchers actually want. This offsets the computational overhead by prioritising the processing power to run these algorithms.

Can Partisia be used with other search engines as well, say Google or Bing, to make them more privacy-friendly?

We would gladly welcome such companies to join ours and many others in prioritising the protection of user’s privacy. It is overwhelmingly reassuring to see the emergence of viable alternatives such as Better Internet Search, who are focusing on making user-centric models rather than solely profit-deriving models. Putting the customer front and centre of any project will harvest positive long-term results, and I strongly believe that we will see more and more dominant players in the market adopt such technology as the debate over user privacy grows increasingly prevalent.

How will blockchain technology impact search marketing and SEO?

Adding privacy to blockchain will have a profound impact on the advertising market. This technology will provide smaller advertisers with significant power, while giving end users full sovereignty of their data and identities.  Marketers or advertisers can utilise the high value data that they will have access to, while the data owners can rest safely knowing their privacy is ensured. Today, the data market does not allow the user to benefit monetarily, even though owners of their data enjoy the profits earned from the end user’s data. We very much look forward to working with Better Internet Search to develop this alternative to the dominating business model, democratising data for the first time.