There's no such thing as a free lunch. When consumers use free services such as Google and Facebook, they're paying with their own personal information. The user is the product, and there is little to no oversight on how companies use your data.
Google, despite its claims otherwise, makes a business out of selling your personal information to advertisers. If you use your Gmail address with a retailer, you'll find their ads suddenly appearing on your browser when you use Google's services.
Facebook got into hot water several years ago when it was revealed to be using user data as part of a grand social experiment to see if social networks worked to spread emotional contagion. They manipulated user feeds with more or less negative posts to see if it would influence the user to post more positively or negatively themselves. In the wake of the 2016 U.S. election, Facebook is promising to control what kind of news is posted on its site, potentially threatening open discourse.
With negative public reaction to this behavior at a fever pitch, here are three ways that companies can meet the demand for fair treatment.
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1. Let the user choose their content.
Companies like Facebook use sophisticated and confidential algorithms to decide what a user sees. Depending on their age and browsing behavior (among numerous other factors), different users see different content. While common practice for advertisers, even content posted by friends is at the mercy of algorithms, creating a filter bubble.
Crowdfunding platforms such as Patreon buck this trend by letting users pick and choose what they want to experience. By giving a monthly donation, users gain access to exclusive content, which can range from news to music to something as specific as making money through cryptocurrency.
A newcomer to the crowdfunding scene is Dumo. Like Patreon, it gives users the opportunity to support content they care about, but it takes the user-first concept further by letting users do all their giving in one place. Every US-registered nonprofit or political organization is fundable on the platform, and creators can register for free with a Twitter handle. There is no rewards mechanism. That's by design, and users can edit what they support any time.
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2. Incentivize unbiased content.
While Facebook might have good intentions when it comes to fact-checking the news on their site, other companies like Google have proven to be more insidious, actively promoting their own services over those of their competitors. Even though the European Commission has leveled a $2.7 billion fine against Google for giving illegal advantage to its own shopping service, the company shows no signs of changing its ways.
Pareto.Network offers a game-changing alternative to this sort of behavior. An initial coin offering (ICO) on the Ethereum network, Pareto is traded between "holders" and "providers" of objective financial information. The information which benefits the most people is rewarded in kind, with the end result being that profitable information rises to the top, and damaging and/or self-serving information withers and dies on the vine.Related: IPOs Are Boring But You Must Keep an Eye on These 9 Initial Coin Offerings
3. Respect privacy
While Google and Facebook may have robust measures in place to ensure your personal information doesn't fall into the wrong hands, many users still feel a distinct lack of comfort in their lives being exploited for profit by mega corporations.
Capsure is a social network that emphasizes privacy and transparency. Users have complete control over how their content is shared with their contacts. By creating groups around family, friends, particular interests, or any other category, users can pick and choose who gets to see what.
This level of determination ensures that no self-filtering is necessary. You never have to worry about your boss seeing something meant for a colleague, for instance. A self-described "private social network" Capsure's focus is less on collecting your information, than on facilitating the sharing of memories with an audience of your choosing.
As consumers become aware of what companies are doing with their data, our interconnected world starts to feel less secure, and more like a place where individual rights are not respected.
The European Union is leading the way with the Right to Be Forgotten - a ruling that gives citizens the ability to de-list information about themselves from search engines - but the US is not far behind. If companies like Pareto Network, Dumo and Capsure continue to put an emphasis on privacy, unbiased content and self-determined content, they're sure to find a market.
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