When we use products from Facebook, Google, and Twitter, we think they are free. Facebook still says on its home page that it is free and always will be. But we do pay for these services; we are just doing so with our personal data. Data has now become a currency.
Tech companies with “free” products are taking our data and then reselling them to others to use. With a world that relies on data for building strategies, analysis, and marketing tactics, the value of data is increasing.
There is nothing wrong with these companies asking for compensation; they do need to run their operations. But there is a problem when the same companies are monetizing, manipulating, and mishandling our personal data without any accountability.
While these kinds of companies have been trading in users’ data for years, many users have only recently become aware of just how vulnerable their personal pieces of data are.
Facebook, the most prominent example, is still facing fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, with widening investigations by several US federal agencies. A political consulting firm that worked for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, Cambridge Analytica used data improperly obtained from Facebook to build voter profiles. The firm obtained the personal data of up to 71 million Americans.
Up to now, the general public has not fully realized the value of their personal data, but that value is becoming increasingly clear. Users need stronger protections so that they can have control over their data, but they also deserve to be compensated when companies use this valuable asset.
One solution would be to make sure that companies dealing in personal data act more like banks. Banks borrow our money in return for keeping it safe and allowing us to operate our daily lives. They are held to a higher standard than regular businesses because they are taking custody of something very personal and valuable. If a bank loses our money, or is found doing something wrong with it, there are consequences — customers lose trust, and governments can fine them.
In addition, the business model of banks is transparent — they generate returns on the money that we place with them, and they offer a portion to us.
The money that we deposit with banks is insured for even more protection against financial loss — if money is stolen, it can be replaced. In the case of companies that are dealing with personal data, though, that unique, valuable asset cannot just be replaced if something goes wrong. When personal information is stolen, there can be long-term, far-reaching effects on the victims of the theft. Therefore, user protections need to be strong and the consequences serious.
In addition to knowing that the system is keeping our personal data safe, we should also be compensated for the value of that data. If a company is making money from our data, we should get a share as well.
In the past, logistics may have made this kind of compensation difficult. But blockchain technology offers a way forward not only to keep personal data safe, but also to allow the owners of that data to profit from its use — rather than big companies reaping all the benefits. Data is a currency now and it needs to be protected and managed like any other.
Pavel Bains is the CEO of Bluzelle, a decentralized data ecosystem that allows individuals and businesses to have full data control and the ability to monetize that data.