We humans are an inherently lazy lot. Especially so when it comes to personal data on social networks. It’s a fact that technology companies understand very well and have taken advantage of for decades, well before Facebook or LinkedIn et al. For companies using massive databases, switching to new database technologies remains inherently expensive. A fact technology companies have leveraged for decades as well. Think Oracle, Microsoft etc.
Regulation and data portability
One key element of consideration by regulators is forcing technology companies, especially those who use personal information as part of their offering (social media tools being prime.) This is part of US Senator Mark Warners proposal for regulation of tech giants like Facebook or Google (although it has some merit, it does risk shutting down free speech to some degree.)
A primary reason people don’t switch from Facebook or LinkedIn, for example, is because those services act in part like an address book. If you use WhatsApp or Instagram, both owned by Facebook, it’s easy to transfer all your contacts over. Good luck trying to bring your BeBee or some other social media app contacts over to Facebook or vice versa.
It takes a lot of time and effort to transfer those contacts and many people don’t want to have multiple social media services that they then have to engage in. We’re just lazy, but also, we make an economic decision in our minds that it doesn’t return value.
Making personal data easy to move
While many of the tech industry’s challenges today can’t be solved with technology, I believe this one certainly could be. And it makes sense. Give consumers control of their data, make it easy to move, free to the consumer and set as a standard, perhaps by the IEEE or W3C that all tech companies that deal with consumer data, like social media apps, comply as a standard. Easy to say, hard to do.
Some are doing it
Blockchain is the first technology platform that comes to mind to make it easy to create such a tool. But others are trying alternatives, such as Tim Berners Lee cool new project called Solid. The concept of Solid is that it creates a sort of “briefcase” or “bag” in which your data is contained, they call it a “pod”. You can determine what gets shared with whom. It’s a great concept, the biggest challenge will be bringing it out of Geek Land and into the mindshare of the common folk to adopt.
Whatever technology is invented to solve this challenge, it must be easy to use for the average consumer. The problem with Solid is that while it’s fairly easy, it’s not easy enough yet. Such a tool should be as simple as registering a Facebook account or a password manager tool. Once that’s solved, it should be about ensuring it works across Windows, macOS, Android and ChromeOS, Linux, Ubuntu and whatever else comes along.
What are your thoughts?