The Real Problem With Google And Facebook
Regulation is not the answer, technological change is…
Ever since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, there has been a cry for regulation. Regulation to prevent the misuse of data from happening again, but I’m not sure that’s the answer.
The problem is that the majority of users don’t understand what they are giving platforms like Facebook and Google. Individually, most of us don’t appreciate the power of our data. In isolation, it isn’t worth too much, but when its added to the data buckets these platforms have it’s value grows immensely.
As a result, platforms like Facebook and Google have built monopoly business models. Combined with devastating network effects, they both have a global reach beyond anything the world has ever seen.
With the aggregation of data, problems have arisen, particularly with Facebook. But the issue isn’t unique to them.
With the complexity of these businesses comes the issue of regulation. How can we regulate what these companies do? What is it that we should be regulating?
Oh, and then there is the issue of how we impose regulations that protect every user across the world, not just those within the country of regulation.
Data and its aggregation
It bugs the life out of me how exposed we are, even today.
As a user of Google and Facebook, I have a profile or an identity. Everyone does. From here data points are captured, whether it is a page view, a share or a click. This data creates a picture of me, my age, my sex, my likes and dislikes and much much more. Using the information from my views these companies have enough data to map out my political beliefs, my desires and so on.
According to the leaks from Cambridge Analytica, this reaches an astonishing 5,000 data points. This is what Facebook and Google take from me every day. To be clear, they’re taking it from you too.
The thing that stinks is that I have given them all this data about me, for nothing-not a penny. All I get in return as an easier way for me to keep in touch with my friends (Facebook) or to find products or information (Google).
Of course, nearly everyone uses Facebook or Google every day. Often both and at multiple times throughout the day. The volume of data they have as a result is staggering. Mind-blowing.
It is most concerning that some users don’t appreciate or understand how they are being manipulated, but I do.
The power of both businesses is their ability to aggregate data from me and millions of others. With aggregation comes a product to sell access and oh, boy they both sell it well.
I’m bombarded with adverts, all aimed to respond to my previous views, likes, and clicks. The data is so sophisticated, I often think they’re listening to me…
What needs to be regulated?
Back to the pretense of regulation. The kingpin in all of this is my data, and this is what I want protecting. Protecting from abuses that might influence the outcome of elections or referendums for example.
But, seriously I want my data to be protected to protect me. Currently, I, along with everyone else are manipulated by advertisers in every way imaginable.
I might be naive to think this, but I want my decisions to be mine. I don’t want to be influenced in such a manner.
The argument back may well be don’t use them then. That’s easier said than done these days. I want to use technology, therefore I can’t help but use Google and probably one of the Facebook family of apps.
Let’s be clear, what is important to me is valuable to Facebook and Google too. And with the internet being such an open-source platform the issue exists with other systems that use this technology. I’m just as open to manipulation from LinkedIn (Mircosoft), Amazon, Apple, and many others.
This opens up another problem for me.
As much as I don’t trust Facebook and the others, I don’t trust our Governments either. Let’s face it, both the US and UK governments have both been influenced by the manipulation of data from Facebook. How can these organizations be trusted to impose regulations?
Put me in control
I mentioned earlier, my data is the thing I want to control. So, given my mistrust of governments to provide the right regulation and the platforms need to gather data to make money, how do we move forward?
The internet needs to be structured to make me the gatekeeper, not the platforms. As it stands, when I access the internet, I’m a no-body. It’s only when I access a website or an app that I become something to that platform.
This is the wrong way round. The internet shouldn’t make me anonymous at the start, it should give me the power at the start.
I should then have the option to chose who I share my data with and how much of it I want to share. As I understand it, and I’m not expert this is how crypto-currency works.
This model doesn’t quite fit with how the internet works today.
We need technology to evolve. Call it the future or whatever, but the open-source protocols of today’s internet need’s to change. Instead of platforms like Google or Facebook providing the interface, I will have my interface. I can then decide who I want to connect to.
A more technical explanation of this can be found here — Towards a Free and Open Internet.
Onto the Future
I’m no technologist, but I know the internet of today isn’t fit for purpose. The way our data has been taken from us and abused via aggregation shows us this.
Regulation cannot put this right. Monopoly businesses with such a vast global reach like Facebook and Google are almost unable to be regulated. In my view, countries are too divided to collectively work together. Can anyone see the UN stepping up to break the power of these monopoly businesses? No, nor can I.
The only way forward is technology itself. Let’s face it, none of us like using Facebook. We only use it as there is no credible alternative.
A new internet with a change of emphasis for the user would disrupt the current model. It would enable me to control my data and who has access to it. For the likes of Facebook to continue, it’s business model would have to change completely.
That can only be a good thing, right?
Thanks to Allen Farrington for his inspiration.