Between blockchain technology, artificial intelligence (AI), and plenty of other buzz-worthy topics in the tech world over this past year, there’s another giant topic that must not be forgotten: privacy. Of course, privacy concerns were on everyone’s minds after the well-known recent hack that led to millions of users’ information leak – plagued Facebook’s public relations team and an enormous spotlight was directed at not only the company, but the world of “big tech”.
Suddenly, consumers started to be concerned with what data was being collected on them and what was being done with the data that they were freely handing over to big tech companies. Obviously, they were not fond of the idea that “big tech” companies like Facebook and Google, which were providing a platform free of charge, were then turning around and capitalizing off of the data collected on their users without their (reasonable) permission. In many ways, these platforms that offered their services free to consumers changed the dynamic of the customer-provider relationship. Rather than paying for a product, the consumers who were using the “product” for free now found themselves acting as the product that the tech companies could offer third-parties and the marketing world.
In theory, trading one’s personal data for a top-notch service completely free of charge doesn’t (necessarily) seem like a terrible trade-off. Of course, the problem here is that not everyone is comfortable with, or in agreement on, what data may be used (or should be used) as that very “product.” As was the case with so many users, no one really knew which parts of their data were being shared either internally within the company or externally with third-parties (especially when utilizing the “Sign Up with Facebook” options so many services offered). In addition, most consumers didn’t know much about the process of limiting or controlling what part(s) of their personal data could be shared or accessed by other parties. Enter: GDPR.
Though it was in the works before the Facebook revelations and public outcry, the European Union passed the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which transformed the way companies interact with their users and how they treat the collection of users’ personal data.
The GDPR is a large piece of regulation that outlines what consumers’ rights are in relation to companies handling their personal information in the European Economic Area (EEA). With the passing of the GDPR, consumers in the EEA now have the ability to receive a copy of what information a company has on them as well as control what may remain in the company’s possession, along with much more.
The main takeaway from the passing of the GDPR is the ability for consumers to have more control over their personal information. Along with knowing what personal data a company has collected from them and held onto, consumers also have the right to access, correct/adjust, and even delete information. But with these changes coming to the world of big tech, what does the future hold for the way consumers and companies interact with each other? After all, many would argue that something as simple as seeing targeted advertising is ultimately more useful than random online advertising that’s likely to not be anything the consumer is interested in. How do the two industries reconcile the new changes and ensure relevance in the future?
Putting Control in the Hands of Consumers
To ensure large tech companies, advertisers, and marketing teams are still able to access value in the online marketplace, there’s one distinct direction the world of privacy may likely head to. The best outcome for all parties seems evident in that it requires putting control over personal data back into the hands of consumers.
Rather than companies offering a “free” model for their services (where consumers are actually paying with their personal information), there are some new startups working to make the entire process more transparent and beneficial for all parties involved. Advertisers still value access to personal data and information, but that information doesn’t need to necessarily come from a third-party service. In fact, first-party data providers (the consumers themselves) are able to offer even more valuable data than aggregators because of its validity.
New startups are focusing on the problems the current data market is experiencing and are putting data providers (i.e. the users/consumers) back in the driver’s seat. To accomplish this, we’re seeing an increased number of ways for users to sell access to their information and benefit from it directly, rather than a site collecting information on them and benefiting from it.
Some recent examples include two blockchain-based startups that are cutting out the middleman (who may actually be collecting the data you provide in the marketplace as well) by creating decentralized ways for users to connect with buyers interested in their data (of which there are a lot). Datum and Zinc are two of these blockchain startups making it happen. Both teams are focusing on switching the paradigm and ensuring that users not only decide who has access to their information, but that they’re rewarded for sharing it as well.
Companies like Zinc see that the way consumers think about their data is changing, and that people want more value when they hand over personal information; they don’t want to be taken advantage of. The best way to connect the two parties (consumers and those who want their data) is to allow them to interact directly. With the system, users will be able to control what is done with their data, to what extent it can be used, and what information they consider to be off limits, all while being rewarded for sharing it.
On the other side of the arrangement, those looking to utilize user data will be able to access data from first-party providers, meaning an increased level of accuracy in the data market, which is crucial for effective marketing strategies. Additionally, companies seeking data can market more effectively and efficiently, limiting ad spend waste, by engaging directly with relevant consumers. As Zinc explains, users are “getting rewarded for their attention.” That attention is incredibly valuable.
Future of the Industry
Given the events of 2018, there’s clearly been an increased interest in consumers protecting their personal data and, at the very least, wanting to know how it’s being collected and used by big tech companies. In response to the movement, the industry is seeing new innovators offering consumers alternatives to the model created by big tech and we may likely see the industry as a whole shift in that direction. The future is looking towards more privacy control in the hands of consumers (and benefiting directly from their decision to share).
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.