A few weeks ago I started paying more attention to targeted ads on Facebook and its affiliated application platforms. When Cambridge Analytica gained access to online user profiles and used that data to create its own personal profiles, it left many wondering how Facebook could have let this happen — and came with heavy criticism of Facebook for not protecting its users’ privacy.
What happened was that Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica to use micro-targeted political campaign marketing to favor Trump in the 2016 presidential elections, helping influence the election and its results. Many people have expressed concern and outrage. Why would Facebook allow personal information to be used for political campaign purposes? This incident has led users of Facebook, Instagram, and other affiliated service users to ask “how much privacy do I really have?” – and has caused them to reexamine their relationship with Facebook and its associated companies.
A closer look at the “Terms and Policies,” that Facebook has sent out in the past, (normally conditions that many do not take the time to look through before accepting), shows that Facebook is legally allowed to collect and share all of your personal data, your purchasing habits, and even your location while you are scrolling through viewing things on Facebook or through it. For years, Facebook has been analyzing “likes” on their site to learn more about who you are, how to target you with ads, and by so doing, the company is creating a picture of who you really are.
A few days ago, I was scrolling through Instagram, and I noticed four clothing items being advertised in my feed. Although the clothing was not something I would be interested in buying for myself, I did notice that the clothes were the exact items that my girlfriend had sent to me in a text asking if I liked them. It is not clear to me how, or why, I was targeted with an ad for clothing my girlfriend likes. However, I do feel it was an attempt to try to get me to buy it as a gift since my girlfriend had viewed those items on multiple occasions and not made a purchase. As trivial an example as this is, it did alarm me. Personally, I don’t like Facebook or Instagram attempting to influence my decisions, and it concerns me that I am losing my privacy.
It should be noted that Facebook is not the only company that gathers data on individual preferences. As Pittsburg attorney, Joel Winston says “It’s not just Facebook. If you exist in society, your data is collected. All the biggest technology companies track you around the web (i.e., Amazon A9, Google DoubleClick, and Verizon Oath), collect data about your life (i.e., Oracle Data Cloud (Datalogix), IBM Universal Behavior Exchange, and Adobe Audience Manager), and report your credit and financial wherewithal (i.e., Experian, Equifax Workforce Solutions, and CoreLogic SafeRent).”
How would I go about addressing this data privacy issue?
To be concise: I would use blockchain. It provides insights into how your data is circulating the internet with its ability to provide ledgers that cannot be tampered with. By providing a list of when your data was posted on, for instance Facebook, who or what companies are using your data, and finally, what these companies are doing with your data, users would have insight in to why they are being targeted with ads and could figure out how to prevent it. So far, blockchain has not officially been implemented into mainstream social media set-ups, but there are social media sites being developed on blockchain. One example, Obsidian messenger allows you to keep your identity private because it does not require links to phone numbers, email accounts, or other accounts to sign up for its services. Using end-to-end encryption for all information, Obsidian ensures encryption for messages, files, photos, videos, and even payments. All in all, you information is secure, and you are not signing any kind of a privacy statement allowing your data to be used for analytics and advertising. You can find a few more companies using blockchain for social media here.
As more privacy issues arise on these mainstream social media sites, the route for blockchain usage is being paved. RBC Capital Markets analyst Mitch Steves believes that someday social media users will be able to see exactly what data of theirs is being shared by sites and to what audience. “Blockchain would solve the transparency issue, but it would not solve the control issue you have.” In other words, blockchain would provide visibility into where your data is going, but because you signed a social media’s sites terms and policies, in order to use the site, there is nothing you can actually do to prevent your data being used unless you delete your social media accounts.
As Clabby Analytics discussed in our first blog on blockchain, there is a trust gap that people and businesses realize needs to be filled. With so much data stored online today, companies are spending millions of dollars a year on data protection and security. This is why social media sites like Facebook receive so much backlash for selling customers data based on their interactions. Although blockchain can’t necessarily help you prevent your data from being sold, it has the potential to uncover sites and applications that are using your data using a ledger of exactly who has accessed your data. And with that discovery, users can identify who is targeting them – and how their data is being used.
Just like when the news warns of a product that is not good for your health, blockchain, by identifying how your data is being used, is identifying and warning you that your data is out there circulating the internet. Even if you did accept terms and conditions allowing this to happen, you have visibility into where your data is going. This will impact your actions on social media. As a result, maybe you won’t “like” certain videos, or share certain information with sites. If there was a chicken recall across the United States, it would be in your best interest to stop eating chicken. It is the same with social media sites. If they are sharing your information to target you with unwanted ads and attempting to manipulate your online behaviors, why would you willingly participate?
Blockchain and its ability to create a ledger of how transactions are occurring, and essentially where data is circulating presents a huge risk to social media sites who rely on your data to make money. They will have to become “accountable” with personal information – something they have managed to avoid in the past.
Clabby Analytics believes that, over time, social media site users will demand accountability.
We see blockchain as the ideal technology for providing accountability information. If the current leaders in social media do not respond to accountability requirements, new blockchain-oriented social media sites will evolve. It will be just a matter of time before people take pride in their privacy and understand there are companies out there that will care about their constituents’ privacy, and new business models will develop creating companies that are not reliant on using every ounce of data you put online to run their businesses and increase profits.