Mark Zuckerberg's weird, nonsensical idea to use blockchain to fix Facebook's public relations nightmare...

No comments
Over and over Facebook finds themselves continually under attack for everything from claims their platform enabled election interference in the US and other countries, to admissions from former staff that they've conducted creepy experiments on users to see if they could manipulate a user's emotional state.

But the issue that keeps coming back in various forms - privacy.

From the amount of data outside developers were able to access, which came to light in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, to learning that they keep deleted video sand  'scan' images sent privately through messenger.  You get the idea - Facebook has creeped a lot of people out.

This may surprise you, but in most of these scandals, I don't put much blame on Facebook. If the first step was allowing an app access and clicking "ok" to a notification that the app will have access to your personal info, you can't complain when that's exactly what they do.  The same goes for anything a user uploads - you don't get to act shocked Facebook has the data that you uploaded to Facebook.

Also strange - the idea that Facebook is the worst violator. What they actually do is pretty much 'standard' here in Silicon Valley - but for whatever reason, Facebook has been singled out.

We probably all know someone delusional enough to think they've taken control of their privacy by leaving Facebook... but their e-mail address is still Google GMail.  This perfectly sums up Facebook's current situation.

Zuckerberg's confusing proposition...

Just 16 hours before publishing this article Mark Zuckerberg debuted a new video series he's hosting himself, a "series of discussions on the future of technology and society".  In this first episode he speaks with guest Harvard Law Professor Jonathan Zittrain on a variety of topics, decentralized services being one of them.  Mark states:

“A use of blockchain that I’ve been thinking about … though I haven’t figured out a way to make this work out, is around authentication and… granting access to your information to different services”  He continued “So, replacing the notion of what we have with Facebook Connect with something that is truly distributed.”

Facebook Connect is when you see that 'sign on with Facebook' option on sites which allow you to bypass the usual a signup method.

Here's the problem:

Imagine I have built an app that gives the option to connect to your Facebook account - in fact, it requires it (as some do).  For this, it asks for permission to view your friends list, your e-mail address, the pages you 'like', your location, and your posts - a pretty common request for apps using Facebook Connect.

Here's a screenshot from the Facebook developer area, showing all the data someone can request access to:

So now I'm receiving enough information on you where I know the music you listen to and shows you watch (from the fan pages you liked), where you live, and what's on your mind (remember, I can read your posts).

If this process was executed using blockchain technology as Zuckerberg is considering, on the distributed ledger could see exactly what information was shared and where it went when you installed my app.

Now imagine I put all the information I've gathered from everyone into a database, and sold it.

That's the problem - once your personal data has been delivered to me via blockchain, I don't need the blockchain anymore, your data is mine.

Blockchain is necessary to guarantee a cryptocurrency transaction is valid every time it changes hands. It's why we can't just create Bitcoin for ourselves by storing it offline and duplicating the storage device.

But I can sell copies of your personal data to 10 different companies, nobody cares if there are multiple copies. It's not like once the first person used it, it would stop working for the other 9.

It's all about perception...

As I said in the beginning, Facebook as a public perception problem - I even said it's unfair to act like Facebook is doing anything worse than the other tech giants.

So I think the idea is this: the public feels Facebook is especially untrustworthy with their data, even though that's not true.  Let's make them feel like we've taken big steps to secure their data, even though that's not true.

While putting "users in control of their data using blockchain technology" wouldn't make any real difference, if they could spin the concept properly people may feel that it does, and that's all that really matters.


There's only one real option - Facebook starts gathering less data, and greatly restricts data developers can access.

They took one small step in that direction, it just took a media firestorm. The loophole that gave Cambridge Analytica access to so much information has been closed. Until then, an app could access the data of the person who approved it, and their friends. Cambridge Analytica got terminated for reselling the data, and now all developers can only access the data of the individual who approved it.

It briefly came up in this same discussion, Zuckerberg touched on it saying "...people chose to give their data which was affiliated with Cambridge University and that person sold that information to Cambridge Analytica, which was a violation of our policies."

Everyone agreed that level of access was excessive, but to restrict developers access even more is asking for a revolt. Developers around the world implement Facebook into their products for this data, and a good chunk of Facebook's value comes from this.

Currently Facebook has the luxury of there being no real competition.I know you're thinking "what? there's countless competing social networking platforms!". Yeah but think back to the death of MySpace, if a friend disappeared there, you just knew they officially moved to Facebook.   There's no 1 place everyone quitting Facebook is popping back up on.

If there was, you can be sure Facebook would be right there with an offer they can't refuse - just as they did when Instagram started cutting into people's time on Facebook.

So if Facebook decides to "use blockchain" understand that all they're really doing is using the word "blockchain" - and hoping they can absorb some of the trust people associate with it.
Author: Ross Davis
E-Mail: Twitter:@RossFM

San Francisco News Desk

No comments