William Gibson immortalized himself with the words: “The future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed.”
Let’s echo this and proclaim:
“Personal data sovereignty is already a fact — it’s just not evenly distributed, yet.”
As for the exploitation of personal data, we are at the point where the pendulum has swung as far as it can, and now it is heading back from whence it came, accelerating as it goes.
Some of us are old enough to remember a time when shadowy dark-web demons didn’t have their thieving hands on our data, courtesy of some company or other that stored our data without caring for its safety. Hey, I’m looking at you Yahoo, Equifax, Anthem, CEX, Panerabread, Sax, Fling, Lord & Taylor, Wendy’s, River City Media, Friend Finder Network, Dailymotion, Viacom, Weebly, Zomato, Telegram, etc. But most of all I’m looking at you Facebook.
Reasons To Say, “Thank You, Mark”
Those of us who pine for a world that values personal data sovereignty have a great deal to thank Mark Zuckerberg for. Despite the persistent epidemics of identity theft that followed in the footsteps headline-making hacks, for years nobody in the US seemed to care that their personal data was used and abused. The victims of identity theft treated their losses as a criminal hazard rather than a failure of regulation.
But Mark changed all that for us. Yay Mark!
Mark is Facebook. (Despite recent murmurs about removing him from the CEO position, the only person who can remove Mark is Mark. It’s the absolute stockholder truth.)
In January 2018 our hero, Mark, made a courageous New Year’s resolution “to fix” Facebook. Most likely he had in mind the fact that he was getting heat from politicians about the use of Facebook as an amplifier of “fake news” in the 2016 election. In 2017, Facebook invested over $8.4 million in deploying a platoon of thirty-six lobbyists to stalk Washington politicians and shield Facebook from government interference, but it wasn’t enough.
A week after Mark’s momentous New Year’s resolution, Facebook’s Adam Mosseri, the company’s Head of News Feed, announced that the Facebook news algorithm would be tweaked. Hurrah.
All well and good perhaps, but since then the news cycles have not been kind to Mark — maybe someone tweaked the algorithm. This week alone (and it’s not over yet), news erupted that it wasn’t 50 million users whose data was so generously shared, it was 87 million, of whom 71 million were Americans.
Then, on the same day, our friendly neighborhood Facebook owner announce his intended policy in respect of data privacy. He didn’t even try to smear lipstick on this particular pig: He simply stated that he thinks North Americans need less data protection than Europeans. In case you’re unaware, the EU implements GDPR next month and from that date on, Europeans will have globally applicable carved-right-into-the-law personal data rights (read about them here). Americans won’t. They’ll not have them until they demand them.
For Facebook, the day ended disastrously. It confessed to greater sins-“malicious actors” had taken advantage of search tools on its platform to collect information on most of its 2 billion users worldwide.
Really? Malicious actors? Perhaps you should name them and shame them, Mark.
But thanks anyway, you’ve done a great job demonstrating the need for people to take ownership of their data and stop it being exploited.
Facebook stock is languishing, your company’s reputation is in ruins, and you’ve been relegated to fifth richest man in the world. To add to that, there are at least four lawsuits pursuing Facebook in the courts:
One by investors alleges that “defendants made false or misleading statements and failed to disclose that Facebook violated its own data privacy policies by allowing third parties access to personal data of millions of Facebook users without their consent.”
Another, filed by a Facebook user claims Facebook acted with “absolute disregard” for her personal information after allegedly representing that it wouldn’t disclose the data without permission or notice. This one seeks to become a class action lawsuit on behalf of 50 million people, but it needs to be amended now because it’s really 87 million people — or is it 2 billion?
The other two are investor lawsuits that go after both the company and executives.
To add to that, people are spending less and less time on Facebook, and there’s a growing movement for users to delete their accounts.
Begin to Take Back Your Data
I am blowing the company trumpet by saying that the Permission.io content platform is part of the solution to the data ownership problem. However, we are by no means alone in offering a responsible approach to user data. A good proportion of the blockchain world is working on business ideas that offer such an approach in situations where it never previously saw the light of day — whether it’s dating, messaging, social networks, gaming, gambling, banking, insurance, retail or advertising.
There is a mass of research and innovation surrounding the idea of digital identity (of both people and things), and there are infrastructure projects that will deliver secure and scalable file stores and enable digital resource sharing. The blockchain itself can be employed to provide fully auditable systems that serve and protect the user.
Many of these initiatives are in their early stages and, we may not see their impact for a while. So in the meantime, as we wait for various technologies to mature, let’s take a stand for our data rights. Let’s begin to move away from websites and services where we are the product rather than the customer.
How do you recognize the ones that are not called Facebook?
By their fruits, ye shall know them.
- Do they give you complete control over how your data is used? No. Then walk away.
- Do they reward you for your data? No. Then walk away.
- If the reward isn’t money, what’s its value? If low, then walk away.
A recent article suggested that Your Facebook data is only worth $5.20 on the dark web. It’s sad, but unsurprising. All the value was mined out of it a while ago by Facebook and those “malicious actors” to whom Facebook “inadvertently” gave it.
But fear not. You create new data every moment of your life, and if you keep it under close control, the value of your data will recover from its Facebook recession.
Remember: “Personal data sovereignty is already a fact — it’s just not evenly distributed, yet.”