While the Ethereum blockchain has exploded into a $53 billion market, its promise of allowing greater user privacy and control on the World Wide Web has been slower to materialize. That could begin to change this week as a mobile version of the MetaMask wallet is made public through the app stores owned by Apple Inc. and Google.
MetaMask, founded in 2016, has so far been a browser extension that allows people to connect their cryptocurrency wallets to websites that require access to the Ethereum network. Its new mobile version will allow users to limit the information and payment methods they share with websites. For example, rather than providing a checking account number every time, a user could create different Ethereum accounts to use at various sites to cut down on tracking, said Dan Finlay, a MetaMask lead developer.
“It feels like a natural and critical step in the road to making these tools available to people around the world,” Finlay, a former engineer at Apple, said in an interview.
MetaMask and other wallet hybrids like Status are hoping to help usher in an era of what’s known as Web 3, where internet-based services are decentralized and give users more control over data collection and privacy than the current web, known as Web 2. In the current model, user data such as login frequency, location and searches is tracked across hundreds of sites, collected and sold without consent, said Jacob Cantele, head of product at MetaMask.
Web 2 developed this way because there isn’t a money layer embedded in its underlying structure, such as a way to make micro-payments, Cantele said. That meant user data became the valuable item that is bought and sold. MetaMask users will be able to control what types of data they leave behind, he said.
“You’re able to silo your identity from different sites,” he said. While not many Web 3 sites are functional compared to Web 2 right now, video games have been an early adopter of Web 3 properties. That includes being able to buy a sword in one video game that you can take with you via your wallet to use in a different game, Cantele said. “It’s creating a level of interoperability that was never possible with Web 2.”
The mobile app has been in beta testing with about 100,000 people using it, he said. That compares to about 400,000 users of the MetaMask browser extension. MetaMask mobile should be available for anyone to download this week from Apple’s App Store and Google Play, he said.
Two beta testers are Bill Warren and Joshua Lapidus, the co-founders of PoolParty, a Web 3 app that will allow people to come together to pool their savings for a common goal while also earning interest. Having access to Ethereum sites when MetaMask was only available on a desktop limited the growth of projects such as theirs, Warren said in an interview.
“It’s going to be a huge boon to our user base,” he said. Warren and Lapidus are considering pooling their savings with a few friends to try to buy a small farm in Tennessee using their app. Other users of PoolParty, which will go live in the near future, could be investment clubs or PTAs, Lapidus said.
There have been missteps in trying to eliminate middlemen in finance. Some of the newly launched DeFi apps haven’t had their code audited, which leaves them vulnerable to losses through bugs or hacks. Project Yam Finance amassed $750 million then crashed within days when a bug made it impossible for the app to function properly.
Lapidus said PoolParty is taking extra time with its code and want people to lock up their coins for two to three years rather than for days or weeks. “We’re spending extra time on our contract so we don’t have a Yampocolypse,” Warren said.
While users have poured more than $7.75 billion into all DeFi applications so far, the move of MetaMask to a mobile app with a browser will likely accelerate that growth.
“Being able to use MetaMask from my phone and not from my house is a game changer,” Lapidus said.
— With assistance by Olga Kharif