Reclaiming Data Ownership through Blockchain Technology: Why Social Media Giants Are Against It

The Internet has definitely changed life as we know it by making a lot of things possible. Communication became borderless; information dissemination became wireless; and money became electronic. Many industries were brought back to life and new ones were created; and one of the new sectors that saw rapid growth and use is social media

As of August 2023, 65% of the world’s population is connected to the Internet. And according to an April 2023 report by digital marketing firm Smart Insights, 60% of the global population is actively using social media platforms with an average use of 2 hours and 24 minutes per day. Nearly 100% of people who have an Internet connection use social media; and more than anything, this statistic shows how prevalent it is in modern society.

Most of us, especially the youth, will say that we absolutely cannot live without social media. Not only has it made communicating with family members and friends who live far from each other easy, but it has also created many ways for people to reconnect after a long time or meet for the first time. Even online dating became a trend, especially in the past couple of years when the COVID-19 pandemic limited face-to-face interactions. 

The New York Times reported that social media giant Facebook’s ad sales surged by 101% in July 2021 due to heavy use during the pandemic. Likewise, according to BBC news, popular video streaming platform YouTube nearly doubled its advertising revenue from $3.8 billion the previous year to $7 billion by the end of the second quarter of 2021. However positive these figures are, they are also proof of how these big tech firms are profiting off of their users’ data—our data. 

Understanding Data Harvesting

Have you ever wondered how we can use social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube for free? It is because when signing up, we agree to the terms and conditions of the platform, and they include allowing the platform to use our data as they see fit. This is what is called data harvesting.

This means that social media platforms are collecting and analyzing the information we post online. They are tracking everything we do on social media—what we like, what we are using, what we click on and the ads that we watch. And then, they sell this information to advertisers, so they can more accurately target the correct market and influence buyer behavior.

Have you ever wondered how the ads that pop up on your screens are mostly things that interest you? For instance, you tend to like watching videos about animals; and then suddenly, the videos and ads you see are all about pets and related products—even foundations geared towards saving animals. This is the end result of data harvesting, and it keeps you glued to your gadgets, so these companies can continue harvesting and selling your data. 

“So, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, companies like these, their business model is to keep people engaged on the screen. ‘Let’s figure out how to get as much of this person’s attention as we possibly can. How much time can we get you to spend? How much of your life can we get you to give us,’” positive screen-time app Moment CEO Tim Kendall, who used to be a Facebook executive, said in an interview for the 2020 Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma.”

What Kendall pointed out is that these social media firms want people, including kids, addicted to the screen. As the amount of time people spend on their gadgets increases, the more information they have about you. The more data they have, the more they can successfully target you. This increases the effectiveness of the entire design, which then makes them more desirable for advertisers.

Let us go back to the user who is an animal lover. When that user buys a pet product that they clicked off of a pop-up ad, it is compiled into a set of data calculating the rate of success. Then, Facebook, for instance, can say to businesses, “advertise on our app because you will have a 75% chance to increase product sales. And on top of this, we will give you analytics about how to better target your audience to maximize profit.” 

And this system is working so well that Facebook itself stated that at present, 3 million businesses from all over the world are actively advertising on its platform. According to Statista, Facebook had almost $114 billion in the year 2022 from advertising revenue alone. This design is certainly working wonders for social media platforms, but does it also benefit its users?

“There are only a few people [from social media companies] who understand how the systems work. And even they don’t necessarily fully understand what’s going to happen with a particular piece of content. So, as humans, we’ve almost lost control over these systems. Because they’re controlling the information that we see, they’re controlling us more than we’re controlling them,” Sandy Parakilas, former Facebook operations manager and Uber product manager, revealed in the same documentary.

It is clear that on top of buying things we do not really need and spending too much time entertaining ourselves, nothing good comes out of this business design—except for the tech giants profiting off of us. It is high time we take back control of our data and how it is used. 

Reclaiming Data Ownership through Blockchain Technology

Blockchain technology is one of the emerging technologies that can be used as a base layer for other platforms to be able to record and store immutable, secure and tamper-proof data. And when a blockchain is scalable, it can increase its block size and transaction capacity to meet market demands. 

Because of these inherent capabilities of blockchain, data ownership can be given back to their owners. But how exactly does blockchain make this possible? As a blockchain scales, it not only increases its data processing and storing capacity, but it also lowers transaction fees to tiny fractions of a cent. This makes possible micropayments, or the processing of very small amounts that usually will not be accepted by traditional payment systems like credit cards.

Micropayments, in turn, allows users to own and monetize their data. For instance, pay-to-earn social media platform Twetch enables users to earn from whatever they post or share with their friends. All actions on the platform, except for browsing, cost about $0.02 and adding an image costs an additional $0.07. 

Users earn whenever someone likes, retweets, shares or comments on their posts. Each user will have to link their digital wallet to their Twetch account, so payments and earnings are taken and given straight to the wallet. This way, Twetch does not in any way have control of their users’ money. 

This kind of pay-to-earn social media that uses micropayments is made possible because Twetch is built on the BSV Blockchain, the largest public blockchain that is capable of scaling on demand. At present, the BSV Blockchain is completing 4GB data blocks at a throughput of 50,000 to 100,000 transactions per second (TPS). And because of this, it is able to stabilize and lower fees to $0.000003 per transaction at a transaction time of less than two seconds.

And because data is recorded and stored immutably on the blockchain, users are assured that their data remains their own. Not only will users own and monetize their data, but this kind of system also promotes responsible use of social media through increased accountability. Blockchain allows for easy verification and tracing of transactions. 

A person who has, for example, committed cyberbullying can easily be held accountable for their actions. Their posts and comments, which are all recorded as transactions, can be used as evidence against them. This kind of model, where it does not even take one dollar a day for a user to enjoy posting, commenting and interacting with their friends on social media, is certainly more beneficial to the user.

However, it is not easy for people to be convinced to pay to use social media, no matter how small the amount is. This is because the tech giants have ingrained in us the free use of social media. And since most of us are not being inconvenienced if they use our data, then it is better for the status quo to remain the same. For instance, although Twetch has been around for three years, its user base has remained at just over 100,000. 

Netflix’s “The Social Dilemma,” which actually premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2020, has been critically acclaimed and was watched by over 100 million people. Despite this, it did not achieve its desired effect of making people take action against social media giants’ design of profiting off their users. 

Despite this, awareness has indeed been spread. With platforms such as Twetch leading the way to reclaiming data ownership, as well as responsible social media use, there is hope for the future. And with blockchain technology steadily gaining ground in its adoption, we might not have to wait too long for the time when we all own our data and have full control of who uses them.

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