Who Owns Your Data?
I’m only partially convinced that we’re doomed to live out our existence in an Orwellian nightmare, though there are new examples of data being weaponized seemingly every day. You probably don’t need a tinfoil hat to stop the CIA from reading your thoughts, but don’t think for a second that the NSA is the only one reading your email. I’m pretty sure the contents of my email and my cloud storage don’t really belong to me, but rather that Google is letting me freely borrow my own stuff from them.
It’s the free part that’s actually the problem, because there’s no such thing as a free lunch—we’ve given up something less tangible in exchange for a service.
The product Facebook is selling? It’s you.
They harvest the data that we willingly give up, run it through some infernal machine that’s powered by unholy magic and orphans’ tears, and then advertisers practically trip over themselves to present you with specially-tailored sponsored content.
Fight Club popularized this business model in the late nineties: they’re selling our own fat asses back to us.
I am Jack’s quiet discomfort.
Worse still, are the companies that collect information without your consent. Did you ever sign up for Equifax or TransUnion? Me neither, but the info they have on you is chilling. And they’ll sell it to anyone, if they bother to protect it at all. If you’re one of the 145 million individuals that had your information exposed, I can empathize, but you can take solace in the fact that Equifax continues to have a healthy operating margin, and they made nearly 600 million dollars last year off your information.
There’s an interesting opportunity if someone could clear up this whole situation.
We Live in a Post-Privacy World
It’s an ethereal concept now; let’s not bother to pretend it’s real. But there’s an interesting twist: total transparency.
What if my digital self—the amalgamation of all my data—wasn’t fractured and stored inside my bank, or LinkedIn, or one of the countless other servers that are tied to every day activities… what if it was complete, and within my control? An immutable record, a single source of the truth, auditable, but with the rules set by me. I’ve just described a blockchain, except this one comes with DanCoin™.
Want to show me an advertisement? Cool, I need stuff, here’s time-limited access to my info, and you can pay me directly, instead of Facebook. Want to see if I’m a good candidate for that job? Okay, here’s my complete school and work history, and neither of us need to contact ZipRecruiter or watch their terrible TV ads. Am I a good credit risk? Let's find out: here’s my financial data, no need to ask a gaggle of jackasses in Atlanta.
I’m still the product, but now I’m the one who’s selling.
Out in the Open
You maniac! You can’t just put your information out there, in the open. As noted earlier, it’s already out there, just ask any of the 145 million Equifax ‘customers.’
But in our future state, just because it’s publicly available, doesn’t mean it’s publicly understandable. Cue encryption. Now that it’s possible to generate true random numbers, and we’ve already started preparing for a post-quantum cryptographic era, you have the ability to not only convert your precious data into incomprehensible gobbledygook, but technically you can future proof it, at least for the time being.
It would already take a standard desktop several times longer than the current age of universe to crack RSA4096 encryption (basically double what your bank uses), and that’s publicly available today. Go ahead and crank up that quantum computer and spend a few decades hacking my financial information just to realize there’s only 14 dollars in that account and I’m up to my eyeballs in debt.
This All Sounds Computationally Expensive, and Complex…
Maybe. It is a bit to wrap your head around—when I pitched a similar idea to Microsoft, their first reaction was to call me a witch and try to burn me at the stake. But truth-be-told, I’m not inventing any new technologies over the course of this blog; hell, I can barely master a belt buckle.
And as for computationally expensive—not really. A $37 RaspberryPi has enough power to encrypt your communications to bank-level security, so you can stop your ISP from snooping or prioritizing their content, or simply to watch a better Netflix catalog.
It is, however, complex. Thinking about the number of entities we interact with daily would probably make your head spin and having to manage all of those connections might BSOD your brain, and your RaspberryPi. If only there was a known entity that already possessed most of what we’re talking about…
Oh, the Irony!
If there's one institution we should trust to help handle our affairs, picking the ones with trust in their damned names would seem like a reasonable idea. We'd be wrong. (Fun fact: Banks with the word 'Trust' in their name account for over $77 billion on the list of bank failures.) They're primarily responsible for this whole mess to begin with.
Maybe bankers could take a breather twisting their mustaches and tying people to train tracks to realize there’s more profit—and sustainability—in acting as trust brokers than in robbing us blind, this whole concept might be feasible. But I’m not convinced that financial institutions are capable of making that change. They’ll continue to nickel and dime us and wonder why they’re the least trusted institutions, ironically.
So where does that leave us? Unfortunately, back where we started… and there’s only two options: move out into the woods and start penning a manifesto, or drop all your money into DanCoin™.