One of Web3’s benefits, according to boosters such as Jack Dorsey, is that it’s censorship-resistant. Because it is decentralized, this argument goes, it is impossible to censor anyone. But it isn’t true that cryptocurrency is decentralized. Right now, Web3 has a choke point: Big Tech.
Cryptocurrency has relied on points of centralization since the days of Mt. Gox. (That hack wouldn’t have mattered nearly as much if Mt. Gox hadn’t been processing 80 percent of all transaction volume in Bitcoin at times). As the ecosystem has expanded, so have the points of centralization, such as AWS and Google Cloud.
One problem with cryptocurrency is that the technology is fairly user-hostile, at least to normal users of the internet. And so centralized services have sprung up for the non-technical, such as Coinbase, OpenSea, Metamask, VeVe, and Rarible. Meanwhile, mainstream payment apps — Venmo, PayPay, and so on — have added cryptocurrency capabilities. This is likely how the general public will get involved with crypto, assuming they do so at all. These services may also be used by people who do understand cryptocurrency since even the savvy may appreciate user-friendly interfaces and protection from scams.
To get to these apps, users will go through the Google and Apple app stores. So if those centralized ways of accessing cryptocurrency want to stay in Apple’s and Google’s app stores, well, functionally, Apple and Google will be setting the terms of content moderation for Web3
The flip side here is that Apple can turn the faucet off at any time. Display an NFT titty? You might be out. Try to bilk Apple out of its cut? You’re definitely out.
Coinbase’s content moderation capitulation here is understandable: Apple, Google, and even Amazon are going to run the show if you’re trying to make Web3 a mass-market technology. Collectively, this group owns the stores where your app appears, the cloud servers you use for your service, the operating systems, and the devices. Say whatever you like about the distributed future of Web3, but for the time being, centralized Big Tech is going to continue calling the shots