Data is the ‘new oil’ that drives our economy, but recent data breaches indicate that we should perhaps be wary about sharing our data. According to Ruben Verborgh, expert in semantic web technology, the way to regain control over our personal data is to return to a decentralized web, a win-win scenario for both consumers and companies.
Trading data for services
In March 2018, it became clear that Cambridge Analytica had used personal data of millions of Facebook subscribers for political purposes. This scandal made it painfully clear how little we had worried about our personal data before. In fact, our lack of control over our own data is one of the concerns that Tim Berners-Lee – inventor of the World Wide Web – voiced in 2017, claiming that the internet today is not as open as it used to be.
Although originally intended as a ‘free space open to everyone’, the web has evolved into a centralized system governed by a handful of internet giants such as Google and Facebook.
What they have in common is a shared business model that seems very attractive at first sight: they do not charge us for their services. However, if we were to read the small print in their data policy, we would soon realize that we are paying – not with money, but with our personal data.
The catchphrase of the decade is ‘data is the new oil’, so obviously the more data companies have, the more powerful they become. For Facebook, for instance, the data of an average user is said to equal an annual revenue of roughly 20 dollars. This seems a considerable amount – especially taking into account that the site has 2.27 billion active users – but looking at it from our own perspective as consumers it is actually not that much at all. Let’s turn it around: suppose you’ve lost all your private messages and all your photos, how much would you be willing to pay to get them back? Surely, 20 dollars is a small price to regain control over your data.