Apps, search engines and social media networks have a constant presence in most people’s everyday lives. Years ago, these sites and apps seemed harmless and helpful—they were strategically designed to appear this way to the average person.
But as the amount of data they’ve been gathering on users has been brought to light, public opinion has shifted. Unfriendly terms such as “data monopoly” and “threat to democracy” are currently setting the tone of discussion around companies like Google and Facebook.
Part of the problem is that right now, the culture around data sharing is about “opting out.” When you start using a new app or social media network, checking the box next to “I have read and agree to the terms” generally puts you in a situation where your data is available to be harvested by the company.
Many people simply don’t know what they’re getting into by agreeing to those terms. No one really has a choice about what data they share. And the typical default systems require people to do the work of opting out on their own.
The only way to stop the data collection is by opting out, unsubscribing and stopping websites from collecting cookies—files that hold a small amount of data on a specific user and website.
But the blockchain offers a different solution, a way to create a culture of “opting in.” One where consumers choose what to share and when to share it, rather than handing everything over to corporations and hoping it isn’t misused or lost.
Here’s how this shift from opt-out to opt-in will happen:
Technology and policy will change the way people think about data.
An opt-in culture will not only be about data collection or choosing how and when individuals use data. It will also mean a shift in the way people think about the data, or content, they choose to put out online.
Today, the profit system for online media is driven by advertising. And the collection and sale of users’ data allow advertisers to pinpoint consumers with increasing accuracy. Even as people have grown used to targeted ads, a sense of uneasiness lingers. They’re questioning why companies are allowed to collect so much data on the sites and pages visited.
Europe’s new data privacy law is already shifting the conversation around data privacy. It requires companies to inform users what data is being collected, and it gives consumers the right to access stored data and even correct information that turns out to be inaccurate.
Interestingly, email marketers have been hit hard by the new regulations because marketers are no longer allowed to assume consent from customers. They now have to obtain permission from people on their mailing lists to continue sending emails. In effect, they have to encourage people to opt-in to receiving promotional emails.
As this mindset spreads, the culture will provide more privacy for users.
Blockchain will support this change in the use and consumption of digital content.
Many blockchain companies being built right now are involved in a variety of channels within the media industry.
Companies like NYIAX are already operating in the advertising space to improve the contract trading process. And iProdoos is hoping to create the future of entertainment by combining content, crowdfunding and social media using blockchain technology. As they mature, more organizations will find their niche and narrow their focus onto some of the issues that need addressing within digital media.
Some of those contentious topics of the moment are payment and attribution for content. But companies like Po.et, founded by Jarrod Dicker, a former head of project management at Huffington Post, are attempting to use blockchain to reconcile content creation with a fairer, more transparent system for attribution and compensation. Storing content on a blockchain creates an immutable record of that content’s proof of existence. And it provides providence for the content, no matter where it ends up online.
Another issue that desperately needs fixing is the actual business model of consumer data. Right now, consumers are the product. Their data is collected and sold, for the most part without their knowledge or explicit consent.
Concepts such as the Brave Browser are already working on ways to keep advertisers in tune with consumers, while also creating an “opt-in” culture for users. When Brave Browser users view ads and content on a publication, both the users and the publishers are rewarded with Basic Attention Tokens. And the kicker—an individual’s data never leaves his or her device.
This isn’t actually all that revolutionary, as the concept is similar to giving someone a coupon for watching an ad. But the point here is that users opt into a system that rewards them, rather than unwittingly having their data collected and sold.
The technology will help build up the trust that’s lacking in online content and media.
Transparency seems to be a buzzword today, and the conclusion people always come to is that everyone wants more transparency. But that may not be the right word to describe what most really want in their online lives.
People aren’t necessarily demanding transparency, they’re demanding trust.
The two are often conflated, but they aren’t the same thing. People want to be able to trust that their data isn’t being used without their consent. They want to be able to trust that giving their email address to their favorite publication won’t result in a flood of spam emails from that publication’s sponsors or affiliates.
Transparency in advertising and data collection is certainly one way to help build that trust. But the more consumers are able to protect and control their data, the more thoughtful companies will have to be about adhering to an opt-in culture.