Lowered Growth and Links to Russia: Was the Worst Week Ever for Facebook, the Best One Yet for User Privacy?
On Thursday last week, Facebook had a very bad day. The social network suffered a $119 billion fall, as a result of lowered sales growth predictions. This constituted a 19% decline in value in just 24 hours, the biggest ever one day drop in US history.
Apparently, the next generation of users isn’t giving Facebook the thumbs up. This is unsurprising in the wake of the Facebook Analytica scandal that saw 50 million Facebook users’ personal data and that of their friends exposed. A message has been sent to the digital giant, hitting it where it counts, in the pocketbook and this is a message that won’t go unheard by other leading online companies in the advertising marketplace.
Users feel they have been manipulated, exploited and lied to by the architects of the world’s largest data harvesting infrastructures, with the sale and dissemination of their data to 3rd parties, leading to misuse by app developers and corporations, as well as political campaigns. This brings us to calamity number two for Facebook in space of a week, with the company’s announcement on Monday that it had shut down 32 pages with suspected Russian links.
Once again Facebook was in the spotlight for fake news pages, believed to be created by the Russians in the hope of causing dissent among US voters prior to the midterms, in a familiar echo of the events leading up to the 2016 presidential elections.
So, how on earth can this be good news for user privacy?
Well, as users, we have finally had enough, and we’ve picked up on the fact that we hold all the power. The billions of dollars that these online corporations earn each year from the use of our data, depends on our providing access to that information. If we vote with our feet and stop signing up to those services that show a reckless disregard for our privacy, then the ad dollars stop rolling in.
Facebook’s financial woes may also have been compounded by the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The new EU privacy regulation has been proving its efficacy, in the two months since it took effect on May 25th 2018.
The GDPR states that the user is the owner of their own personal information and any company wishing to make use of that data needs to gain the user’s consent to do so. The companies collecting our data must also make a digital copy available to the user.
A non-profit, called the Liberdy Data Foundation, is leveraging the GDPR, in conjunction with blockchain technology to build an alternative, fairer advertising ecosystem that is far more secure, putting the user first and paying them for the use of their data.
In this way, users can continue to receive free online services in return for exposure to advertising without the price including their privacy and the health of their democracy. In addition, they get financially rewarded for their data, a commodity that rightfully belongs to them.
Liberdy enables the user to instantly access the data online companies like Google, Facebook, Instagram and Amazon have collected on them. They then choose which data they wish to share, and the system anonymizes the information, so it cannot be traced back to a specific individual,and encrypts it. A direct channel is opened between users and advertisers. Users choose with which verticals they wish to share their data, are paid its use and are only exposed to relevant, targeted ads. Meanwhile advertisers can gain access to verified, accurate, consent-based data, which was not previously available outside the walled gardens of Google and Facebook. Liberdy uses blockchain technology to ensure airtight security and complete transparency. The system is decentralized so data is safely dispersed across the network, while every transaction is published to all the nodes on the network, so the digital ad industry is being dragged out of the shadows.
Facebook has had to swallow a bitter pill this week, but the current system is diseased, and it cannot be left to fester. The events of the last week can serve as a wake-up call for the digital giants that harvest our data and for us as users. We have alternatives to the status quo and we have the power to make a change in how our data is used and by whom. Now, what we do with that power is up to us.