Facebook has had a tough few weeks. In addition to the massive Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal announced at the end of March, it was also revealed that CubeYou, a data analytics firm, was collecting information about users through viral quizzes and then selling it to third party marketers.
As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg prepares to face congress to answer for the leak, and likely to address the ads placed by Russian operatives during the 2016, many users are calling it quits, spreading the hashtag #DeleteFacebook on other social media platforms.
“It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm...” Mark Zuckerberg said.
The growing concern over data sharing is understandable, but the Facebook breach is only the tip of the iceberg.
While Facebook’s 87-million-person leak may be unique in the sheer amount of information that was shared, and especially in how that data was used, it was hardly the largest leak in the past 5 years.
Track record of data breaches
In late 2016, Yahoo announced that over 500 million users were impacted by what it claimed was a “state sponsored attack.” Things quickly escalated over the next year, with a round of announcements eventually placing the total number of users impacted at around 3 billion. In this breach, users’ names, dates of birth, email addresses, passwords, and security questions were compromised.
While the Yahoo attack was significant, it did not have quite the impact of 2017’s Equifax scandal.
Equifax was a new type of data breach. It exposed the name, date of birth, and even social security number of over 140 million individuals, and in many cases, users were not even aware that the company had this information. Because Equifax receives its data from credit card companies, retailers, and financial institutions, anyone who has participated in the financial system could be vulnerable.
The sheer amount of data collected online is sobering to some, but it should hardly come as a surprise. Big data is a lucrative business, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
Following Facebook’s data leak, both Facebook and Google began offering users the option to view all data the companies have collected…and people freaked out. Private conversations, locations, documents, search history, and more are all collected and stored in these internet giants’ databases.
Whistleblowers and computer savvy activists have been warning us about the implications of this sort of data collection for some time, but this advice has clearly fallen on deaf ears. But now, as these high-profile leaks become more prevalent, and users can actually see how their data is being used, people are scrambling for a solution, and the need for decentralization is becoming increasingly clear.
Blockchain technology in social media
Where bitcoin is playing a part in addressing a centralized banking system which spiraled out of control, so too can blockchain technology play a part in tackling our data crisis. While simply “putting the data on the blockchain” is not the easy fix we may want it to be, it will be a vital piece of the puzzle.
Building social media 2.0 will most certainly face some of the same challenges we are currently experiencing. Advertising will not go away, and simply following the recent developments in ad distribution, we can see a trend in which advertisements are leaking into what we thought was honest, unbiased content. As it became easier to block popups and banner advertisement, publishers and advertisers moved their ads into the very content that drove users to their site in the first place.
This content could appear on Google, Facebook, or any other medium, and it will be highly targeted to appeal to your interests, based on the data that has been provided. It’s a big business, and there’s simply no way to shake it.
But in an ideal world, the power of a users’ data should at least lie in the hands of the user. This should include a choice on whether or not the data is even stored. And if the data is stored, the choice on whether or not the data is shared, including how it is shared.
There are already several platforms looking to shake up the status quo with exciting new ideas to tackle social media’s biggest problems, including the use of A.I. in data collection, but they are still facing their own challenges. The first and most obvious is that rarely do people join such networks for ideological reasons. Participants use Facebook because their friends do. Creating an entirely new social network that people will use, while not impossible, will obviously present some major hurdles in recruiting new users.
Another challenge is that users want an easy, friendly experience. And while data security is becoming more of a priority for some, the reality is that many simply don’t care.
Regulation and decentralized identity
One of the most important steps in this escalating data crisis will be in creating supportive regulation which removes some of the control from publishers.
The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the first step in this process. This law, which will go into effect in May, includes; breach notification, data portability, the right to access your data, and the right to be forgotten.
In addition to creating regulation that is more favorable toward the user, rather than the publisher, many advocates have suggested the concept of self-sovereign identities. This would include a decentralized platform where people and businesses could store their data on their own devices, and with the help of blockchain technology and digital signatures, this data could remain secure, and even allow transactions of the data stored.
The implications of a digital identity are far reaching, reducing costs for businesses that need to validate identities while placing more power into the hands of the individual. Not only would users be able to share their data in whatever way they wanted, it could eventually also act as a passport or birth certificate.
While there is still a long way to go in this battle, there is progress being made. It’s a new problem, and few people really understand how serious it is. Unfortunately, it may take more high-profile data breaches before people truly begin to speak out with enough volume to shake up the system.
Remember: “If you can’t see the product, you are the product.”
Featured image from Shutterstock
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Texan living in Mexico, new tech enthusiast, decentralization fan, cryptocurrency enthusiast, geopolitical junkie, digi-explorer, and music lover. I believe that we are on the cusp of a new frontier in how we will view the government, money and energy. Let’s be a part of it, together.