Douglas Rushkoff is an author, documentarian, and media theorist. He has written over twenty books on human autonomy in the digital age. In the article, “Why I am Leaving Facebook,” posted on his website, he said: “The true end users of Facebook are the marketers who want to reach and influence us. They are Facebook’s paying customers; we are the product. And we are its workers. The countless hours that we – and the young, particularly – spend on our profiles constitute the unpaid labor on which Facebook justifies its stock valuation.”
As the saying goes, “If you are not paying for the product—you are the product.” Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat are free so that they can collect user data and sell it to the advertising companies. Users don’t make any money for being on the platform but these companies make billions of dollars in revenue with your data. The Internet has been centralized by the FAANGs.These companies have consolidated control over human communication, and their decision-making powers are at an unprecedented level.
Over the last few years, social media conglomerates have extended their reach beyond the social media platforms. These companies are expanding and diversifying their presence in value-added services like television, dating, and cryptocurrency platforms. Amazon is the de facto leader in cloud services, making money by tracking users to influence their buying decisions. Even with this shift towards value-added services, users will still be at risk of manipulation and privacy breaches as these social media companies rely on selling user data to advertisers. All these planned value-added services still require you to join Facebook, hence your data is still under their control.
Entities like blockchain, cryptocurrency companies, and decentralized peer-to-peer communications have caught the eye of Venture Capitals (VCs), as they look for alternatives to Facebook. The emergence of new technologies like blockchain is signalling a shifting trend towards the decentralization of social platforms. Blockchain technology is secure and encrypted, and cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum use it. This technology is now moving into Decentralized Web (Dweb) and is used to record movement of data, registration of unique usernames, and data storage. Blockchain technology tracks ownership of data securely in a trusted environment. It is not controlled by a central authority, but by participants, who establish the rules for participation. This makes them censorship-resistant, and an open-source platform.
Decentralized social networks allow users to control and monitor their own data. Users can set up their account, take personal data ownership, and control the kind of content they wish to see. No big corporation monitors the user’s content, and a federated social network establishes the guidelines and acceptable behaviour for the platform. In short, users have control over their data in three aspects: Privacy (allowing/disallowing access), Ownership (data belongs to the user), and Dissemination (information is distributed based on the user’s preference).
An example of a decentralized social network is Mesh Messaging App that Hong Kong protesters have been using to communicate with each other and the public. The Mesh App allows users to communicate via Bluetooth with each other when they are within a range. Telegram is also a very popular means of exchanging information, online debates, and latest updates. Hong Kong protesters have turned to these decentralized chat apps to plan their demonstrations, staying away from the prying eyes of centralized and intrusive social media.
It’s time for users to leverage their data for their own social and monetary gain through decentralization of their Internet experience and take control of who has access to their data. If every internet user could turn on or off the access to their data at will, they would be in a position to start demanding payment in cash or services in return for watching ads and sharing personal data. We must free ourselves from the clutches of these greedy, centralized platforms, and reclaim control of our data—and the Internet!