Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is heading to Capitol Hill today.
As the founder and CEO seeks deliverance from his company’s sins, I believe he has a bigger opportunity in all of this.
There is a silver lining for Facebook that is hidden in the Cambridge Analytics debacle…
And an opportunity to help person to person trust survive, over the long term, on the Internet.
But for trust to have any reasonable chance for survival, Facebook must do the exact opposite of what most media observers and politicians will demand…
To survive and not be torn apart, Facebook must collect more data, not less.
Politicians Will Get It Wrong
Politicians grilling Mark Zuckerberg today are threatening Facebook with laws and regulation.
At the end of the day, the threats can be distilled into two main themes:
- Reduce Personal Data Collection: Insist that Facebook stop collecting so much personal data, or that it severely restrict the amount of data it collects.
- Increase User Control Over Data: Demand that Facebook give users more “control” over their personal data.
But both of these are bad and ineffective solutions for our species’ growing problem with digital, personally identifiable information (DPII).
Not only are these propositions ineffective at addressing the underlying problem of DPII, but they are irresponsibly myopic regarding clear and present dangers involving more advanced, potentially trust-destroying technologies we will face in the very near future.
Additionally, neither concept offers Facebook a business incentive, or way to monetize the solution…
Nor do they provide a moral carrot in the form of an opportunity for Facebook to realize its stated mission of becoming an actual “utility”.
Why These Solutions Are Unrealistic
In the case of #1 “Stop Collecting So Much Personal Data” above it’s basically impossible.
Facebook’s entire business model is designed around collecting data to serve targeted ads.
It does ad targeting well enough to be worth almost $500 billion as of this post.
In the case of #2, “Give Users More Control Over Their Data“, I don’t believe users actually want to “control” their data on Facebook any more than they do on Google.
We may say we do, but we actually don’t.
We don’t want to actually control their user DPII data on the social network any more than we actually want to be thinner…
The average person will say “I want to be thinner…,” then they head straight to the bulk candy aisle to stock up on “organic gummies” or whatever else makes them feel good.
Indeed, less than half of Facebook users have actually modified their privacy settings regarding the use of apps, such as that of Cambridge Analytica.
In the end, Facebook users just want to use Facebook to connect with friends, share personal moments in pictures, or whatever else they use Facebook for.
A Defacto Identity Verification Platform
A more practical path for Facebook’s salvation the company should do the opposite of #1 and #2 above.
Facebook should collect MORE user data.
And turn Facebook into a premium service that is walled off from anyone who is not “verified”.
Facebook’s biggest problem is that it is a breeding ground for disinformation.
Anyone can create an account and upload fake news, doctored videos, propaganda, etc… Or worse. Facebook has been a broadcast medium for heinous crimes, including murder.
Facebook could become a safer, more trusted communications platform if it both required a deeper level of verification for anyone on it AND if it developed a technology for identifying false information or claims.1
Now that Facebook has over 2 billion users, it would not be impossible for the company to sacrifice short term revenue for long term growth by strengthening verification this way.
Indeed, using Facebook should be as difficult, if not more so, than opening a cryptocurrency trading account.
It’s like a proctological exam.
You literally need to upload passport photos, signatures, photos of yourself, your toothbrush color, photos of you holding your passport, personal handwritten notes, your mother’s maiden name, your Social Security number, your mailing address, your driver’s license… etc.
I’m not kidding. All of this is true. Maybe not the toothbrush part.
I get it. You’re trading money, or cryptocurrency, on these platforms.
But your personal data and identity are arguably irreplaceable.
So what Facebook should do, if Mark Zuckerberg has a long term view, which I believe he does, is require all users of Facebook to upload all this personal data and that it will be locked as securely as Fort Knox and used only for personal identification purposes.
Or create a “Premium Facebook” where your identity is guaranteed, online.
This way, Facebook becomes the equivalent of “Social Security Number 2.0” or “Driver’s License 2.0”.
Facejacking: Cyber Crimes Are Going to Get a Lot Worse
The reason why Facebook should collect more user data than it does is because cyber crime is going to get a lot worse.
Indeed, we (humans who live on this planet) have a major f-ing problem coming.
The major f-ing problem is called social engineering.
Social engineering is a form of psychological manipulation of people into performing actions they would not otherwise do.
And it’s going to get a lot worse.
Both phishing and fake news stories are examples of social engineering.
Social engineering is already happening on a macro scale on social networks like Facebook and Twitter when elections happen and we communicate across electronic media.
On a micro level, social engineering is what cyber criminals do when they design spamming software to trick people into clicking on a link in a phishing email.
Spearphishing is an advanced form of cyber attack that focuses on a particular individual or company.
The reason social engineering is going to get worse is because of advances in voice and face synthesis.
With credible voice and face manipulation technology, anyone can literally become a puppeteer creating convincing video and audio of anyone.
Including the President of the United States.
The link above and video below are featured in a podcast episode of NPR’s RadioLab titled “Breaking News“.
What is truly disturbing to think about is that as this technology becomes ubiquitous2, impersonating someone will become as cheap and easy to do as firing up the iPhone X Animoji feature.
Which Company Will Become an Identity Utility?
It doesn’t have to be Facebook, of course, that saves us from a future where we can literally trust nothing we see or hear on a screen.
Apple could seize this opportunity.
Apple has made public efforts to emphasize its concern and care for personal data privacy. Indeed, Apple does so even to its own detriment, as with Siri.
Or Google could seize this opportunity. Or Amazon. Or Palantir. Or some other Silicon Valley company we’ve not yet heard of.
But I am fairly confident that if Mark Zuckerberg does NOT do this, his company will at some point become the equivalent of the Weekly World News where people go to waste the lowest form of their available time.
And no one will trust it any further than they could throw it.
As such, Facebook should:
- Collect as much personal data as it possibly can, with permission of course, AND
- Charge a fee for managing it all in a “Premium” version of the platform.
This would make Facebook an actual practical utility of personal data and identity management.