Reclaiming personal data and rebuilding the new economy of you
In the coming age of more mainstream blockchain-based solutions, users will be their own marketing lead generators.
Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me ten times, and well, shame on all of us. Ten is at least how many times Facebook has fooled us on privacy, according to the Ireland Data Protection Commission, which has opened ten post-GDPR data privacy investigations into the social media behemoth plus its subsidiaries. That constitutes two-thirds of all of the commission’s investigations into multinational technology corporations.
These investigations don’t even include other high-profile Facebook privacy snafus, like the Cambridge Analytica scandal or Facebook’s failure to create a “clear history” feature as it has long promised. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants to tell anyone who will listen that the social media giant is finally taking this issue seriously, claiming that privacy will actually be part of the company’s vision and value proposition moving forward, but it sounds like just one more empty promise (and a broken record) from a company that has continually burned its users on this front.
And it’s not just Facebook. Other notable, large-scale data breaches have occurred outside of Facebook this decade, with attacks targeting the likes of user databases for Yahoo (three billion!), Marriott, Equifax, and many others. Even mobile internet providers and carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile are at risk through the recent cyber-hacking phenomenon of “SIM swapping.”
Widespread data insecurity is converging into a potentially catastrophic “perfect storm” for not just the individual consumer, but businesses of all sizes and industries. The increase of personal data collected by companies, the increase of value of personal data in the white/grey/black market (whether legal advertisement, surveillance, phishing scams, ID theft, data ransom, or something else), the increase in data breaches, the rise in complexity and cost to protect data, and regulatory changes with heavy fines on these data breaches are converging and conspiring to turn companies of all stripes into imperfect, faulty and cost-ridden data custodians.
All of these factors pose an existential risk to companies whether they are in the business of collecting personal data or not, creating a burden of unpredictable costs and risks to providers and adverse privacy outcomes to the consumer.
Blockchain: the digital custodian uniquely yours
Facebook’s folly in attempting to position itself as a privacy-first company is fundamentally flawed for more than just the fact it has dropped the ball in this area several times. The folly lies with any company attempting to position itself as such, when all their resources are actually focused on building a very different type of product or service, whether that’s content, social media, e-commerce, retail, lodging, or anything else.
However, just because a single company won’t help us solve this problem, and shouldn’t have to carry the full burden of solving such a massive and technically difficult problem, that doesn’t mean a purpose built technological framework can’t help us do so. A framework that removes the need to trust other parties with your data, a framework built on blockchain or decentralized ledger technology.
Originally formulated as the cryptocurrency “bitcoin” in Satoshi Nakamoto’s white paper, published in response to the financial crisis of the late 2000s, blockchain is a technologically precise and secure tool with ‘trustless’ benefits (i.e. the ability to interact with parties without the need to trust them. Employing a technological solution that leverages blockchain and can be integrated into existing systems presents a rare but impactful opportunity to address problems with handling data storage in our untrusting, leaky, privacy-sensitive times. In this way, that technology becomes the trustless mechanism to manage, grant and exchange permissions to access personal data.
Distributed ledger technology, in all its forms, presents a huge leap forward into a new realm of trustless technologies that will change the world, providing an encrypted and nearly uncrackable method of keeping track of the value exchange. The user holds the only keys to unlock their records on their blockchain, with no middleman, and thus the user alone presents the only threat to their own records. So, blockchain may not present a perfect solution, but it presents a solution as perfect as the user (rather than the weakest link at a phone store or tech company with access to all customer records) and that user’s own immunity to social engineering and other hacks.
The new age of the consumer-entrepreneur
Of course, we’re not quite there yet. The adoption of a blockchain-based standard across industries currently demands a very different and technically involved user experience that might, on its face, hinder the mass adoption of what would be these technology benefits.
However, in addition to increasing data security, the transition to blockchain will also provide a means where users are actually able to benefit from the self-determined, controlled release of their data. With this user-profit model, user demand will drive big technology to prioritize helping the user bridge these knowledge gaps (as they did, pre-blockchain, with both the personal computer and smartphone).
Marketing, in a nutshell, is the business process of establishing relationships with and delivering to customers. “Targeting” is the mother’s milk of this process, and with the user having control over the flow of this data, they will become a very lucrative source of marketing intelligence, a position from which they have the most to profit from their own data. Large technology companies can continue profiting alongside their customers..
With the proliferation of more personal data extracted on a real-time basis, companies will soon be able to employ highly accurate personalized services on an individual-by-individual basis, allowing marketers to establish a one-on-one relationship with each of their customers and address their individual needs personally.
In the coming age of more mainstream blockchain-based solutions, users will not only be their own database custodians, but their own marketing lead generators. In an era where there are continued fears about what automation will do to the global economy, the blockchain-based technologies will not only act as an important line of defence for your data, but also enable the ultimate economy of you.