Once again the biggest social media network, Facebook, are in the spotlight- for all the wrong reasons. The drama began when the $500 billion company admitted Friday that data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica, which has close ties to President Trump’s election campaign and right-leaning megadonors, used data that had been collected from 50 million users without their consent. Facebook has since suspended Cambridge Analytica’s access to its platform.
Cambridge Analytica issued a number of press releases in the days following the explosive media reports, saying that it “strongly denies the claims” it acted improperly.
In 2014 we received Facebook data and derivatives of Facebook data from another company, GSR, that we engaged in good faith to legally supply data for research,” the statement reads. “After it subsequently became known that GSR had broken its contract with Cambridge Analytica because it had not adhered to data protection regulation, Cambridge Analytica deleted all the Facebook data and derivatives, in cooperation with Facebook… This Facebook data was not used by Cambridge Analytica as part of the services it provided to the Donald Trump presidential campaign.
Facebook also issued a statement on its website Monday saying that the claim there was a data breach is “completely false” and Facebook users “gave their consent” when they signed up for certain kinds of apps, like the one Kogan exploited for data collection purposes. The social media juggernaut also maintained that “no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.”
Can Facebook overcome this latest scandal? People are getting tired of it.
This helps explain why you keep hearing the word “blockchain.” Blockchain technology, among other things, could potentially make platforms like Facebook obsolete. Many people know blockchain as the decentralised record of bitcoin (a virtual currency) transactions. It is the technology that allows digital money to circulate around the globe, without the help of banks or governments. In other words, blockchain cuts out the middleman, and this technology can be applied to many different industries.
Imagine if you, not Facebook, controlled your own data. Or if you could rent out your apartment easily and securely, without paying a cent to Airbnb. If readers could buy digital books directly from authors and filmmakers could know how many times their movies were viewed. Musicians would be able to keep better track of when their songs were played, and get paid accordingly. Taxi drivers would transact directly with passengers without Uber knowing everyone’s location.
In their new book, “The Truth Machine,” Michael Casey and Paul Vigna describe how companies like Uber, Airbnb and Facebook have become examples of entrenched monopoly power. Blockchain technologies “aim to do away with these intermediaries altogether, letting people forge their own trust to build social networks and business arrangements on their own terms.”
In the case of Bitcoin, the blockchain is not stored on a central server, but is continuously updated by computers all over the world. Blockchain transactions are verified by many participants, known as miners, who receive Bitcoins as a reward for their work.
The blockchain is also public, and can be viewed by anyone at any time. That means that the blockchain cannot be altered without people noticing. Think of it kind of like Wikipedia, but for financial transactions.
Bitcoin was invented to be free of centralized control — in an attempt to create a currency that was independent of the banking system. Bitcoin allows people to accumulate assets without worrying that a central bank will devalue their currency, or that their money will be confiscated by authorities.
And yes, because Bitcoin can be sent without using your real name, it can be used for criminal activity. But blockchain transactions are pseudonymous, not anonymous. You can see every Bitcoin transaction, but not the individuals making them. Because all Bitcoin transactions are recorded on the blockchain, they are still more traceable than cash.
The creation of Bitcoin inspired innovations like Ethereum, a computing network that also uses blockchain technology. People can use Ethereum to create smart contracts that are executed by algorithms, rather than human beings. These contracts are recorded on the blockchain, making them both public and immutable. Complete strangers can automatically exchange digital currency once the terms of a contract are met, eliminating the need of a trusted intermediary.
Blockchain technology records and time-stamps every transaction, making them visible for the world to see. The ability to trace the flow of digital assets could be game-changing for artists. Right now, filmmakers don’t know how many times their movies are watched online, perhaps because that data is held by a company like Netflix. This opacity would be much more difficult in a blockchain world.
Blockchain also enhances data privacy. This may seem like a contradiction: How can something be both private and transparent? As Don and Alex Tapscott explain in their book, “Blockchain Revolution,” people decide how much information to attach to their identity.
Because this information is stored on the blockchain, which exists everywhere, there are no “honey pots” of personal data to hack into. No single company like Facebook has access to your private information, and they can’t hand that information over to a third party without your permission. Nor could companies sell your data without you receiving a penny in return. “Because you own your data, you can monetize it,” the Tapscotts explain. “You share in the wealth of big data.”
This may all sound too good to be true. Scepticism is warranted, as the blockchain hype is certainly excessive. In one amusing case, Long Island Iced Tea’s shares soared by over 200% after adding the word “blockchain” to their name.
But the froth over blockchain reveals a real frustration with the current internet, which was supposed to be a decentralising force. You see this frustration in the backlash against Facebook, in musicians’ grief over YouTube and Spotify eating away at their income, and in the scandals over companies like Uber employing user data to track journalists.
Blockchain will not solve the world’s problems, but perhaps it can deliver on some of the goals that our current internet has failed to achieve. Internet companies were supposed to put more power into the hands of individuals, but it hasn’t always worked out that way. People are ready to disrupt the disrupters.
How to delete Facebook
If you’ve finally given up on the world’s most popular social media network and want to get rid of Facebook, it’s not too complicated to remove yourself from the service. But before you delete all of those pictures, posts, and Likes, you should download your personal information from Facebook first.
Your Facebook archives contain just about all of the pertinent information related to your account, including your photos, active sessions, chat history, IP addresses, facial recognition data, and which ads you clicked, just to name a few. That’s a ton of personal information that you should probably maintain access to. To download your archive, go to “Settings” and click “Download a copy of your Facebook data” at the bottom of General Account Settings, and then click “Start My Archive.”
After you’ve finished downloading your archive, you can now delete your account.