Will Facebook’s Blunder Ignite a “Blockchain of Data Privacy” Movement?
Facebook’s failure to prevent vast troves of consumer data from being siphoned off by third parties has received worldwide media attention. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether Facebook violated terms of a 2011 settlement when data of up to 50 million users were sent to Cambridge Analytics. It has alleged that this firm has ties to Donald Trump’s U.S. presidential campaign.
The fallout is mounting. Chief Executive Alexander Nix is suspended from his role at Cambridge. And this week, Mark Zuckerberg appeared before Congress, a five-hour joint session hearing of the Commerce and Judiciary committees.
For years, advertisers have paid for promotional access to Facebook users. Developers have then been able to source this data through apps plugged into Facebook’s platform.
This “pillage of data” is set right from the get-go when a user is required to provide their first name, last name, email or phone number, birthday and gender for their Facebook account.
Charlie Silver who is the CEO of Algebraix, a rapidly emerging, permission-based mobile advertising platform under-girded by blockchain and a new utility token known as ALX says that for years, Facebook has been harvesting personal data. “They’ve taken your data and then applied very sophisticated algorithms to see who and what you’re connected to. They’ve built these very sophisticated models about who you are, what you are likely to do, what you’re likely to buy, and what your affinities are. As a result of those linkages, they know more about you than you do about yourself.”
The worst part of all of this says Silver is that Facebook has allowed third-party app developers like Cambridge Analytics and hundreds and hundreds of others to come in and write their own machine learning algorithms and their own rules and applications to siphon from this honeypot of personal data.
Says Silver: “Now that all of this is coming to the forefront and the media has discovered it, people are aghast at how their personal data is being used.”
Empowering Consumer Control
The sad reality is that many Facebook users are often under the impression that their information is “private” due to the permission layers and privacy setting on the platform. Laments Silver: “If users were more aware of how much of their personal data was actually being shared publicly, they would be much more reserved in giving it away. The fact of the matter is that personal data is not private unless you yourself have control.”
Silver says that Algebraix views data as a personal, tangible asset like a car, watch or even a piece of gold. “Data is really the new oil that’s driving the economy of the next century. It’s a real asset that had real value. Because it’s owned by the individual, they should have the right to make decisions on how its captured, shared and sold.”
Continues Silver: “Just like if you had a had a big ranch and someone discovered oil on the ranch. The big oil companies can’t just come in and steal the oil. That’s what’s happening in this context with Facebook. Facebook has basically stolen individual’s data and exploited it.”
Silver says that he’s not accusing Facebook of doing anything illegal. Rather, he believes that Facebook is not making it clear about how one’s data is being used and how third-party developers and analytics companies can come in and harvest it. “Somewhere in the fine print, in the terms and conditions, you and I clicked on something that said, yes, my data can be used in such and such a manner.”
While a consumer can begin taking ownership of their data back by deleting their Facebook account, he says that any data captured to date will still be orbiting out there on the internet. “I don’t think there’s a lot an individual can do on this front. One piece of good news, however, is the fact that this data gets pretty stale pretty quickly. It’s pretty useless after a year or so. Data gets pretty old pretty quickly.”
Is a New Era of Consumer Data Control Around The Block?
Silver would like to clear up one misconception about the blockchain and decentralization concerning data. “Yes, while blockchains like those running Bitcoin and Ethereum are decentralized, they are distributed amongst large data centers around the world.”
“At Algebraix, we believe that individual data (name, address, age, birthday) should be stored in the most decentralized way possible, which is on an individual’s mobile phone. So the personal data an individual enters on the Algebraix platform will be housed on their phone.”
Silver says that transaction data is what will be housed on the blockchain. Like when someone chooses to share their data — the fact that they viewed a Star Wars advertisement or watched a Khan Academy video or read an article on The Economist. “All of those transactions will be facilitated on the blockchain.”
Apple and Android devices, asserts Silver, are the most secure environments there are. “It makes no sense for an individual hacker to pursue this route. If you are a professional hacker, or if you are someone who is nefarious, you don’t try to hack an individual cell phone. There’s no money there, no big payoff. That person wants to hack Amazon web services or Walmart, or Coinbase or Binance, the big exchanges and the big centralized repositories. There’s no big payoff in figuring out how to hack an individual cell phone.
Asked about Algebraix’ greatest hope, Silver remarked: “Our goal is to attract millions and millions of users and let the world know that data is their asset. They own it, just like their car, or their computer or phone. Its something that’s tangible, and has value. Through Algebraix, we’ll show users how to take back ownership and stop the exploitation of their data while earning cryptocurrency or money when they choose to share it. They’ll make the choice. They’ll be in control.”