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A future where your data is yours

Following some bad press for technology, Tom Ives, 44’s Head of Innovation and Insight, takes a look at a few new tools coming down the line that will bring a more positive future with them.

I’m sure you’ll have heard about one of the latest scandals to rock the world of tech.

The Facebook data scandal affected 50 million people, and resulted in political campaign specialist Cambridge Analytica suspending their CEO Alexander Nix.

Take back control

The #deletefacebook campaign is a predictable knee-jerk reaction to the scandal – to abandon the site in protest. But tempting as it seems to me, I can’t leave the ad network where I do 90% of my socialising with family and friends. And it is an ‘ad network’ – the service is free because our data is the product Facebook makes money from. As the data scandal proves, we – ‘the products’ – are truly valuable. Companies can use our data for their own gain, so long as they can access it.

The challenge is that Facebook makes giving over our personal data feel good – we love to share important moments with friends, record that great meal, or create a fun personalised ElfYourself video. Feeling good is addictive, and commentators in the industry are likening our social media addiction to the use of cigarettes in the 60’s; chain smoking because adverts say cigarettes are cool.

But people want to take back control. If we are ‘the product’ then we should get to make some of the calls. Technology can be manipulated – like when your beautiful Instagram feed is interrupted by random adverts – but there’s always another new platform just around the corner that promises to solve these problems. Dissatisfaction with the status quo drives opportunity for promising alternatives. One of these upcoming opportunities is the blockchain…

Safety in numbers

You might not have heard of blockchain, but the chances are that you will have heard of bitcoin – the cryptocurrency that runs on it. Blockchain works by sharing a record of something over so many computers connected to the internet that it can’t be maliciously changed or hacked. With so many real versions of correct records and information, a fake would instantly stand out. Bitcoin is a new kind of currency that uses the blockchain as a record of transactions.

Bitcoin has a lot of hype surrounding it, and its own share of bad press. Blockchain, on the other hand, could be a technology to fuel a more hopeful future. One of many imagined applications is the end of passwords, as the blockchain will be able to verify your real identity, because it knows your history. Or how about a decentralised store of any important data, which could mean that central servers can’t be hacked for data, as it’s not all kept in the same place.

Another way

Inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has begun a new project called Solid. Solid imagines a world where you keep your private data like you would keep money in the bank. You could then allow social networks (or any business) to access it how and when you wished them to. If you were unhappy with the service, you’d withdraw your money (data). The social networks wouldn’t be able to sell this data on, or be hacked or breached – as they wouldn’t hold it centrally anymore.

This would change the business model of some of the biggest companies in the world, including Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple.

The blockchain, Solid or some other up-and-coming tech could create a future where we can truly own our own data. And if you wanted to leave a particular platform, then you could safely take your data with you. How cool would that be?

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