On average, we spent more than 5 years of our precious lifetime on a social media platform, that’s up to one hour on Facebook’s social channels per day.
Our social app time beats hours spent on eating, drinking, socializing, letting the dog out and visiting our grandmother altogether. Teens spent a staggering 9 hours a day staring at a small screen. At the end of 2017, 1,4 billion people were using Facebook on a daily basis, giving Zuckerberg & Co more than 40 billion of revenue. But we are getting increasingly aware of the fact that Facebook is making money with our personal data and that apps are eating up more and more of our precious time. What do we get in return? Algorithms connected to artificial intelligence, monitoring us 24/7 and claiming that they are the holy grail to our happiness? Do we really want one big global data tycoon to define our lives in its most intimate details? This is where the blockchain technology comes in: It might hold the key to bringing the ownership of data and our lives back into our own hands.
Facebook has become such an integral part of our lives, that at this moment in time it seems impossible for many to imagine a life without the big blue F. But cracks are appearing at the basic level of trust and transparency. Does this sound familiar? It reminds me of the financial crisis of 2008 where the slightly arrogant behaviour of the financial world came to the light, at least in the public opinion. Whistleblowers surfaced to reveal the true story behind some of the institutions that once served the commons, but seemed to have lost any moral compass and created very non-transparent products to shovel enormous amounts of wealth to the top of the pyramid. When they gambled and lost, the regulating governments turned to the taxpayer to save those institutions that were ‘too big to fail’. It seems that that one can lie for a fairly long time and misuse a monopolized place of power when people believe you are the only place to go to for fulfilling their needs. Are you thinking of Facebook yet? One of the positive results of the financial crisis, however, is that people got more aware of how money is made, out of thin air. Similarly, now people are getting more aware of how much their data is actually worth. Out of the 2008 crisis, a technology appeared with a potentially revolutionary system changer to at least challenge the monopoly of banks: the blockchain. Can this digital ledger now also play a role in changing the social media landscape?
Facebook is not a bank, although it stores the digital gold of the future: data.
Our data to be precise. And now it is called upon to get more transparent. There are whistleblowers involved like Chris Wylie who appeared in the US Congress to give his opinion in the Cambridge Analytics data leak: it seems that even the President of the USA can buy his way into fame and power through a network that started by rating women’s faces on the Harvard campus. Some journalists ask themselves if even our democratic system is at stake. Consequently, Chris is now banned from Facebook and Instagram.
Whistleblower? Normally that means that governments or secret services have been scrutinizing public privacy on a level that they themselves become the threat and Joe Blow has the right to know.
As Wylie points out very well, we tick a box somewhere when we sign up, and this supposedly gave Facebook the right to experiment on us with much stronger high-end apps developed years later. Because a click made somewhere in 2010, we have allowed facial recognition in 2017, for example. This is exactly the shady non-transparent behaviour we are talking about. And in fact, Facebook changed this policy, at least in Europe, under pressure of the EU and the introduction of the Data Protection Regulation laws. But the point is: Why should we care that Facebook is selling our data behind our backs when we are too busy to track our ex’s latest date, upload holiday pics or look for a nice event close to us. Facebook has become part of our lives in ways that most people would not even dare to admit, for better and for worse.
meaning that Facebook played some role in their marital conflicts. So maybe there is a reason that we should start to get at least a little concerned?
It is fascinating and in fact quite disturbing to take a closer look at how companies like Cambridge Analytica work. Yes, they are the ones that didn’t delete +67 million user data when Facebook friendly asked them to do so. In fact, FB sent them a letter with a box to tick to agree on deleting the files and friendly asked them to send back the copy. And that was that. I am sure in this day and age of technology, there are more secure ways to prove that you have deleted files, isn’t there? In a way, Cambridge Analytica performed the same non-transparency trick as Facebook with their ‘tick just one box and sell your entire life’ trick. In this video, CA director Alexander Nix explains like a modern Austin Powers of data, how his company has up to 5.000 data entry points for every American citizen. The personalized ads and messages are tailor-made using factual (demographics), attitudinal ( psychographics) and behavioural (personality) data. Imagine there is a vote on changing the US Arms legislation laws. People that fall into the categories of higher neurotic, less-open and low conscience will be targeted with ads that confirm their fears on a very subtle level. This will enforce their belief that weapons are needed.
Big data marketing has become an instrument of drone like personal precision in its bombardment with confirmatory and suggestive ads.
It manipulates the unaware customer to strengthen his or her opinion on issues or the belief that he or she needs products or needs to go voting in favour or against. Some people call this a worldwide assault on democracy. Trump’s office did use the service of CA, paid 6 million for it, and no one will ever be able to tell the amount of impact this data precision marketing had on the elections. We are probably part of the biggest targeted manipulation of history. Where will this end? Think of the scene from Minority Report where Tom Cruise walks past huge LED-screens where personalized messages are continuously fired at him. More recent, ANON takes the discussion about the right for privacy in cyberspace, where all data and thus humans will be connected, a level higher.
Facebook is not ‘bad’ neither ‘good’, it’s a company that was simply the first one to find the golden key of combining social media with the collection of metadata, and they are optimizing profits by putting their hands on growing amounts of data, their cash cow.
Only problem: it’s not their data. This awareness is now flooding the public domain and governments are issuing more laws to protect us, the naïve-made customer. Facebook responded to the worldwide upheaval caused by the data leak by announcing self-regulation and promising to be more transparent, to make it easier for users to reach their settings and take control back over data permission management. Zuckerberg’s promise to the community for 2018 is #fixingFacebook, while others oppose that their business advertisement selling model will never change because of stakeholders’ interests. In that prospect, a more ‘sustainable’ Facebook is maybe just impossible.
Power comes with taking responsibility, realizing the consequences of the immense impact it has on people’s ordinary lives.
Zuckerberg & team could probably start solving world problems from tomorrow with the amount of power that he has under his hands. The mobilizing power of Facebook is unprecedented in human history, and could easily compensate in a positive way for their record selling-off of our data. Imagine a post on the newsfeed of ¼ of the world’s population about plastic seas and what we can do about that. Whether Facebook can ever be replaced or not, technology can be used to help solve imminent issues. It seems time for new Digital Responsible initiatives. What would happen if data came back in the hands of the owners? What would happen if social apps appeared on a blockchain where people can start earning tokens by just making profiles and adding their data. And this data is not owned by anybody but themselves.
This is actually possible! The ThreeFold foundation, for example, has birthed an open source ecosystem of distributed smaller data centres, close to the edge, and super green. The zero platform and self-healing abilities are solving the blockchain dilemma while the complete grid is also fully decentralized. With the ThreeFold token it will be possible to join the Digital Me social platform. Your digital identity stored on the safe and distributed ThreeFold grid. There are more examples out there like stream (tokenizing real-time data) , Civic ( secure Identity ecosystem) or Sovrin and uPort.
The 2008 financial crisis taught us that hiding in the dark didn’t work out well for giga-banks that were supposed to be too big to fail.
More important was the global loss of trust by millions of people when the financial schemes came to the light. Different more transparent services developed like Revolut and every public add in Holland where you are lending money has to publish that you actually indebt yourself to that company. Facebook could do the same thing with adding to political Dark Ads that they are paid by a political campaign.
The Big Blue F has moved humanity further with its brilliant organizing services allowing everybody to have his or her digital voice, connecting millions of people worldwide. It will stay in our lives for quite a while is my guess. Other potential future brilliant alternatives are being incubated that have one major difference in their prime architecture: They work from decentralized models in peer to peer blockchain driven social marketplaces. They hand over the ownership of data to the people. It feels like a movement of empowerment. I believe it will provide also a huge step towards a redefined ‘ownership’ of our lives. When we take our lives more in our own hands, we are less likely to be sold anything: a lifestyle, or a need that in the base of our existence we don’t really have. We also recognize better where we are being manipulated. Maybe because we start to experience that happiness is really there deep down inside of us, for free.
New blockchain based digital responsible platforms like Digital ME or Brave Browser will empower people by tokenizing the movement of bringing data back to the owners. Whatever happens after, is up to the people. From this empowerment, our ‘needs’ would increasingly shift to authenticity and higher values like sharing, caring, respect and unity. To meet real ‘different’ people again instead of being made afraid of our neighbours when some company wants to sell us security cameras and higher fences. To engage in communities or circles that are real, that are thriving around values that are feeding the soul, instead of pockets of shareholders, screens of ‘friends’ we have never met and databases of election manipulators.