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Most likely if you read these conditions, you will find out that the companies that provide their services for free actually want you something to give them in exchange. The companies collect the info of things you pay attention to and some personal data as well. OK, you are free to learn about it and decide not to use the platform that most people use if you don't want to share this data. Isn't it? For many people, this option is not realistic as they want to interact with the rest of the world using certain platforms that collect this data.
What's more interesting is that people suspect that sometimes platforms collect more data than they are supposed to. For example, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri had to repel the allegations about the possibility that Instagram is listening to the users' conversations. Many users noticed that the app nearly instantly puts to their feeds the ads based on the words they just said aloud. Seeing these ads is quite useless for most of the people who shared their impression of that, but the feeling they get when these ads appear is quite disturbing. Mosseri's explanation is quite simple: such cases are coincidences. People tend to speak aloud about the things they search for on the Internet and that's why based on their browsing history the ads show up — sometimes right when they speak about these things aloud. Strangely, other platforms are not accused of listening to what the users say
Who needs the targeted ads? The Harvard Business School research shows that people don't like to interact with the ads obviously selected based on their Internet behavior. However, boosting sales through customer data research is not a myth. The trick is spying secretly, not blatantly as people get annoyed with demonstrative surveillance after their intimate lives. Seemingly, some of the companies found a way to haunt their customers with targeted ads without letting them notice it
A vivid example is the Target corporation. From Charles Duhigg's NYT article about shopping habits, we learn that Target eventually started to mix the ads based on the customers' data with some random ads to conceal the fact they know about their customers too much. It means the Target team was aware that people were angered when they felt their lives were scanned but it didn't turn the team to quit this strategy. It's strictly business. If something brings money and is not resulting in lawsuits, it will be used by the companies.
As Target managed to increase its gains via snooping into the customers' lives, we have to agree that targeted ads do work — especially when people are not aware of being subjected to surveillance, research while info of people's choices and habits is for sale. But more and more people become aware. It has consequences such as the development of privacy-focused tools and platforms for payments, communication, and all kinds of other activities on the one hand and the demand from people for such tools and platforms on the other hand.
Blockchain is one of the most influential technologies in this sphere. Before we start the review of the blockchain's role in shaping the future of personal data, we should mention one of the important conclusions made in the Harvard Business School research: when the platform or company shortly informs users or customers that the ads they see are based on the clicks they have made, most users don't feel anger and are more eager to interact with the ads. Especially if the companies claim they don’t lean on the users’ activity on the side websites.
"If you are not paying for the product, then you are a product"
This tough yet neat formula was articulated in the documentary called Social Dilemma in which the ethics of selling big data are discussed by the ex-employees of tech giants of the Internet era (e.g. Google, Facebook, Tinder, and so on). They revealed that social media platforms do their "best" to make people spend as much time surfing through the feed and interacting with info from it. The more time a user spends on social media the more precise portrait of the user the platform gets. And then sells to the third party. What are the losses of the user (aside from ethical concerns behind commodification of users' attention)? The user loses priceless time, gets social media addiction, and finds her/himself in the kind of an individual info bubble. The more one interacts with a certain kind of content the more similar content she/he will get. No chance that one will see anything that doesn't match her/his habits. The world view gets distorted heavily and people start wondering why others see the world differently. Didn't they read the same posts on Facebook?
Blockchain is the technology that was developed to make possible the existence of the Bitcoin network. It is a decentralized ledger of information distributed among multiple nodes. The info stored on-chain is immutable, verifiable, and encrypted. It means that blockchain maintains both transparency (as the info cannot be tampered with and can be confirmed) and privacy (encryption doesn't let third parties learn anything particular about the data stored on-chain). More than that, the best examples of blockchain-based networks have proved to be safe and independent. Decentralization is a crucial blockchain characteristic as it guarantees that no single actor is able to interfere with the data stored on-chain. No one can "hack" it or somehow change this information. In contrast to that, centralized systems can fail due to a central server hack. Bitcoin is still a thing but eventually, the very technology of blockchain gained much attention as the revolutionary way to change many things in life mostly removing the burdens of intermediary, making different activities cheap, fast, safe, private, proof, transparent, and so on. There are already numerous blockchain use cases in different degrees of completion around the globe. Interestingly, some speculate that bitcoin is created to kill the banks. Who knows. Right now, banks are implementing blockchain solutions to improve their service! Apart from that, blockchain is used for charity platforms, supply chain control, medicine data management, voting, financial operations, etc.
Blockchain is used both for more efficient data mining (and safe storing) and for preventing the websites from collecting data. To some extent, these use cases are complementary as both means that the user data will not fall in the wrong hands because the info stored in the distributed ledger is harder to steal or associate with an individual. On the other hand, it's clear that while corporations want to improve data mining via blockchain, some people use the benefits of this technology to block third parties from watching their online actions.
Which benefits does blockchain-backed data present? First off, this data is secure as there is no way a single entity can tamper with the data and modify it on purpose. Transparent algorithms associated with blockchains are trustless and objective while data provided by human-led companies may seem dubious at times (one of the recent notable cases — doubts in the fairness of votes counting in the US Presidential election 2020. At the same time, Estonia already uses blockchain for remote voting). Another nice thing about blockchain-based data is its consistency and solid structure that makes it convenient for researching.
As more and more devices get connected to the Internet and exchange data with each other, data maintenance will be more important. Blockchain and similar technologies (known as distributed ledger technologies or DLTs) will get widespread occurrence. The estimations say, 20% of the big data market worth will be accounted for by blockchain-based data by 2030. This estimation might appear to be quite moderate. When the hard-core blockchain missionaries shout that the future is blockchain they mean it. Actually, the efficiency of blockchain serving big data is highly dependent on successful AI implementations in this sphere.
The online ads industry is developing and is far from the maximum efficiency at the time. Only around 800 of 1700 ad banners per month are actually seen by an average person using the Internet. As of 2020, only 24% of marketers are using behavioral data for online ads, and there are no reasons to believe that this figure will decline. It means that this market has tremendous room to grow. By 2021, $375 billion is expected to be spent on online ads. As blockchain is dealing with user data, this technology will join the online ads market in its journey to a brighter future.
The targeted ads have already become the main focus of several blockchain-based platforms. These platforms are striving to address such drawbacks of modern online ad industries as a lack of accountability, fraud risks, low efficiency, Intermediaries are to blame for most of these cons and we know that one of the selling points of blockchain is that it eliminates the necessity in the middlemen.
These new projects are working to provide better and more efficient targeting so people will see the ads they are interested in on the Internet pages where these ads would be appropriate. The advertisers are given a chance to control the supply of the ads and see real impressions and clicks, limit the number of the same ad displaying per person, and apply other adjustments on their own. The transparency of blockchain will provide an opportunity to easily track down the frauds or those who push fake news. More than that, the emergence of new players in the online ad market is itself a decentralization process that leads to better competition and a wider diversity.
There are platforms that allow users to prevent websites from collecting the user's data and block the ads. Some find this move not ethical as companies pay for their ads to be displayed and these ads end up blocked. However, it is fair that people desperately need ad-free spaces. Popup windows, ad windows, animated banners, slowly loading ad-heavy Internet pages, tricks, and baits — are these things ethical? Have we given consent to be subjected to these attacks? The future of ads on the Internet can change in the following years. Hopefully, developers in the blockchain industry will shape a better model that will benefit advertisers and make the Internet surfing experience more pleasant as the status quo is simply wild.
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