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Time to stop pointing fingers at Facebook and take some responsibility ourselves.

As a consultant involved in the digital space for quite some time now, I have carefully observed the evolution of Facebook since its first year of operation. Since that time Mark Zuckerberg has taken the heat on numerous occasions for a variety of privacy-related issues. Remember Facebook Beacon and Facebook Lexicon? What usually follows is a hopeless attempt by some people to start a “delete Facebook” movement instead of taking some time to do a little introspection. 

The news surrounding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica over the past few months has caused quite an uproar. So much so that Zuckerberg himself was summoned to two US congressional hearings and just yesterday, to the much better prepared European Parliament lawmakers to explain what exactly had happened along with the steps Facebook was taking to prevent it from happening again.

Here are some of my general thoughts in no particular order.

Digital literacy among the general population is even lower than I had previously thought

This data breach has a significant silver lining in that it triggered international attention and sparked a global discussion on the topic of data privacy. Having written about this on numerous occasions in the past, it is more apparent to me than ever before that most decision makers still have no idea how the modern internet works, nor do its users.

It is our individual responsibility to understand the modern trade-off of privacy vs. convenience and how it affects us online every day.

I remember gasps in the audience during my speeches back in 2008 when I would provide examples of how people were sharing their locations on Foursquare, thoughts on Twitter, or their medical data on  Patients Like Me.  Fast forward to 2018, and you would be hard-pressed to find someone that doesn’t make a daily trade-off of their data for convenience in some way, shape, or form. Whether it’s the ubiquitous Google Maps on our smartphones or the convenience of connecting to new apps via Facebook instead of memorizing yet another username and password, these exchanges are all around us. And this doesn’t even include the rapidly growing smart home ecosystem, voice-control, and facial recognition tech that is recording our daily lives to make them more “convenient.”

The bottom line here is that each person has a different comfort level with how their data is used and the risks associated with providing their data to a 3rd party. At the very least I could see the benefit in companies creating simplified sign-off forms as part of their app/device activation (in addition to their privacy policy). An example of this could be:

  1. I understand that for this device/app to work, the following personal data will be collected: [list of data fields]
  2. I understand that this data will be collected for a period of [length of time] or until I deactivate it here: [provide link]
  3. I understand that while every effort will be made to keep this data secure on [company X] servers, there is always a risk that a data breach may occur and I am willing to take that risk.

Try a month of getting pointless untargeted ads and make the cost/benefit decision yourself

For those mad a Facebook for the amount of data they harbor to improve their advertising platform, I highly suggest opting out of Facebook data sharing for a month as an experiment. That way you’ll be in a better position to see how it affects you personally.

Learn how to use your privacy settings right now.

I don’t think people should be complaining if they haven’t even bothered to look at the privacy settings of the social platforms they participate on. Contrary to the narrative out there, the privacy settings of the major platforms have been quite user-friendly (i.e. written in plain language) for quite some time now (at least 2 years for Facebook in my opinion).

Perhaps we need to redefine privacy for the modern digital age.

The current Wikipedia definition states that “privacy is the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves, or information about themselves, and thereby express themselves selectively. The boundaries and content of what is considered private differ among cultures and individuals but share common themes”.

While in theory all of the above sounds great, in practice, if you use the internet, you have already given up some degree of privacy (it’s not binary). Perhaps a simple change could be to add a statement along the lines of “while 100% privacy is not possible, having the ability to at least select where you want to reside on the privacy spectrum is”.

Once the initial blockchain hype dies down, its true applications will come

Any of you blockchain geeks out there reading up until this point are likely wondering why I haven’t mentioned the buzzword of the year yet.  Well, I do believe it’s precisely what could save the concept of privacy going forward; however it will take time. I’m referring to the inevitable creation of decentralized blockchain based social platforms that won’t have to rely on an ad-based monetization model. Instead, they will compensate us for the specific strands of data that we agree to provide. The question is, why would the behemoths such as Facebook transform themselves in this direction proactively given their size and ability to buy-out any potential threat?

Don’t for a second think that Google, Amazon, and Netflix don’t have some seriously powerful data about you

I found it a bit odd how people were quick to be so critical of Facebook when they found out how much data it collects, and yet remained relatively hush about Amazon, Google, Netflix, etc. If you’re in this boat, I recommend that you give Scott Galloway’s book The Four a quick read.

I am glad this happened as it will serve as a turning point

Between the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica data breach and the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into force this week, I am of the mindset that some good will come out of all this. At the very least, individuals are going to be making at least slightly more informed privacy vs. convenience decisions in their digital lives.

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One Comment

  1. As always, good perspective here Mike. I like the concept of redefining privacy for the modern age. We’ve got an antiquated concept that simply doesn’t work in an age of data-as-currency and the growing cost of convenience.

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