Could Decentralized Tech Give Us a Fair Deal for Our Data?

Today’s tech and social media giants make billions of dollars every year, but time and again we’ve seen that they are as irresponsible with our data as they are responsible with their money. Cambridge Analytica remains the highest profile example of big tech negligence, but every week seems to bring new reports of malfeasance. Privacy is sacrificed for profit and security for ad dollars. Our world grows worse while big tech’s wallets grow larger on our personal information. Cynics will claim that the internet cannot run without ads, but they should be reminded that ads won’t run without people to see them. New technologies might help the users regain control of their online lives. 

Blockchain, sometimes called distributed ledger technology, has applications in fields ranging from digital asset creation to supply chain tracking to gaming and cross-border remittance payments. Some potential applications are industry-specific, but others promise great changes to everyday lives. One such everyday application is social media and data sharing. A blockchain-driven social media platform could allow all parties in a transaction to track where their data goes, who uses it, and who receives compensation. Everyday users could decide where their data should and should not go, and could even stipulate that advertisers and tech giants pay for the use of it. 

Paying users for their personal data is obviously fair, but some complain it’s implausible: Tech has been used to free data for decades, and is unlikely to reform its piratical ways. At first glance, this objection makes sense, but it grows less and less convincing the more it’s considered. The most important consideration is that a blockchain social media model would improve the internet for advertisers just as much as it would for users. Because blockchain is trackable, advertisers would have a better sense of who they were reaching, and they could be sure that their messages were not going to the uninterested or the hostile. They’d be in a better situation to gauge audience response and record returns on investment; they’d have superior data and no risk of a privacy-related public relations disaster. 

A blockchain advertising model would be a granular experience for the everyday user: It wouldn’t be a binary on/off switch; rather, users could pick the sorts of advertisements they would deign to receive and the types of data they’d be willing to share. Some unusually private users might forego remuneration in favor of anonymity; others might be more forthcoming with their data to receive ample rewards. Users could also stipulate the uses their data might be put to: Some might prefer it be used for quality targeted advertisements, but others might prefer it only became part of a marketing data analytics set. 

Blockchain and distributed ledgers remain young technologies, and some of their greatest accomplishments still lie in the future. Yet we should remember that the tech giants blockchain can disrupt are themselves relatively young: A great deal can change in a short period of time. Already, companies like Steem and Contentos are rebuilding social media for a more just internet of the future. Change is on the way, and it’s coming soon.

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