Public data breaches are everywhere, and despite growing awareness of the need for better data security, they don’t seem to be slowing down.
Take the recent hack of Clearview AI: hackers exposed the firm’s customer list, including many law enforcement agencies and details relating to the searches they conducted using Clearview’s data.
In this climate, the idea of managing your personal data out there on a blockchain might seem crazy. But in fact, blockchain does provide a secure method of managing access to data, and using blockchain could put people back in the driver’s seat when it comes to controlling what data they share.
I’ve already explored some of the unintended consequences of the gig economy, and data ownership is a central factor. Looking more closely at the rideshare ecosystem, one concern is that drivers don’t own their reputation. Reputational data including star rating, number of completed rides and distance driven belong to the ride-share platform.
This is a significant worry. If these reputation metrics were recorded on a blockchain, drivers would be able to keep tabs on their standing, benchmark their performance against industry trends, and most importantly, carry their profile over to other platforms to optimize their business as “independent contractors”. This would let them maximize their opportunities to earn income without being reliant on a single app or platform.
Blockchain isn’t just applicable to accessing personal data in the gig economy. Until the Equifax data breach hit the news in September 2017, most of us would have had no idea that credit score companies were systematically collecting, aggregating and selling our personal information, without our knowledge or consent. After all, it’s our sensitive personal financial data. It’s reasonable to assume that when we entrust that information to a third party, particularly one in the financial services business, that they would regard its security as highly as we do! But if we managed that information on the blockchain, we would know that it was secure, and we would have control over who had access to it.
In broad terms, blockchain gives individuals a flexible way to control their data and content. The ability to link to a verified online identity ensures that personal information is both securely stored, and readily available to be shared under the right permissions. Further, smart contracts can be used to control access based on user-defined agreements. The privacy and encryption capabilities of blockchain are improving constantly, with several organizations including The Open Application Network working to develop better privacy protocols for blockchain.
Modern digital platforms pose risks for anyone reliant on those platforms for income; what happens to drivers if their ride-hailing platform is shut down or legislated out of their city? Blockchain eliminates these worries. It offers a flexible way for independent contractors to curate their reputation across a broad marketplace rather than on a singular platform.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re an Uber driver or someone whose data has been stolen, we’re all getting tired of the rent-seeking behavior from giant platforms. In a world where efforts to monetize our actions for the benefit of mega platforms have become the norm, what’s the solution? We can put individuals back in control of their data, with blockchain’s decentralized ownership model. That would be a good first step.