Data privacy is a hot topic right now. Consumers in Europe will have spent the last few weeks sifting through email after email from companies desperately trying to stay in touch with them following the landmark new GDPR data protection legislation.
Meanwhile, much of the rest of the world is aware of the scandal and controversy surrounding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.
Even if you’re unaware of the details of the case, it’s clear that Facebook and other big platforms are coming under intense scrutiny for their use (or misuse) of their users’ data.
These events are just the latest in a long history of strained relations between customers and tech companies when it comes to data privacy.
68% of people don’t trust brands to handle their information appropriately, with 63% believing they should take responsibility for their own data.
But here’s the thing — most people don’t see sharing their data as the root of all evil. In fact, more than half of all respondents in a recent survey thought data was essential to the running of the economy.
61% of people in the 18-24 age bracket viewed their data as an asset, something they could use to negotiate better deals.
So the situation isn’t as simple as ‘people don’t want to share their data with companies’. People generally understand that their data is an important part of the modern online economy, and can be used to improve their experience.
The issue is that they feel they lack control and don’t trust online platforms to manage their data responsibly and with their interests in mind.
In this, they might well be right. Let’s take a look at how online platforms use our data.
A data economy
In the Cambridge Analytica scandal, a third party company was able to access the personal data of Facebook users. This information was then used to influence political campaigns and, ultimately, elections.
Worrying, for sure. But in most cases, things aren’t quite so sinister. The main — or at least the official — use of our data by platforms like Facebook and Google is in advertising.
Because our data reveals a lot about the things we enjoy, it tells advertisers what we’re most likely to buy. Google and Facebook work with ad companies, using our data to help them target ads at people who will respond positively (read: click on the ad and buy what it’s selling).
It’s a nice idea, but in this model, ad companies are forced to go through these third-party platforms instead of interacting directly with consumers.
That means ads are often poorly targeted, and customers are faced with a ton of ads they don’t care about, for things they aren’t interested in buying. Sound familiar?
The things are, like data sharing, most people don’t see advertising as the devil. 83% of people prefer to have free content with ads, than pay for ad-free content, suggesting they understand the trade-off and are happy to tolerate ads to some extent.
What people take issue with are intrusive, annoying, and poorly targeted ads. They want their data to be used in a way that is not only secure but also generates useful results for them in the form of meaningful and tolerable advertising.
The key to achieving this is more transparency and a more honest and direct relationship between advertisers and consumers.
And the key to that could be blockchain technology.
Using blockchain to make advertising better
In the same survey mentioned earlier, 88% of respondents said transparency was crucial to get them to trust how their data was used and collected.
What’s more, blockchain allows us to build networks without a central point. This removes the need for a middleman like Facebook or Google, so advertisers can interact directly with their prospective customers.
This is what blockchain startups like Kind Ads are doing. They’re building a platform where advertisers, publishers connect directly and users have full control over their own personal data.
Instead of leaving their personal information in the hands of big third-party tech companies, users can decide which advertisers get to access it, and get paid in tokens when they do. They can work with companies who they actually want to hear from and opt out of ads from those they don’t.
Giant middlemen in the online advertising space rake in most of the revenue, so a decentralized ecosystem will heavily benefit publishers and advertisers in this space. At the end of the day, even the users will benefit because they’ll get to view more targeted and relevant ads.
Another company with a similar model is BAT, who have built their very own browser, called Brave, to help make advertising a fairer place.
These kinds of models also open up the possibility for advertisers to use ‘friendlier’ styles of advertising like chatbots and push notifications, because they can build a more personal relationship with their prospects instead of relying on boring, intrusive banner ads.
As our data comes underneath the spotlight more and more, we need a new way of handling it that works for everyone. Blockchain can help us do that.