SXSW: Debating Blockchain Technology and Data Ownership

26 March, 2019

“Do you think Facebook and Google would be worth what they are today if they weren’t made up of our digital assets, which is actually our personal data?” asked Brittany Kaiser, co-founder of DATA, during an unofficial SXSW fireside chat on March 12.

As a whistleblower of the infamous Cambridge Analytica / Facebook scandal, Kaiser has a unique insight into the importance of data privacy and ownership in the social media era. Sitting down alongside our own CEO and IBM Futurist Anne Ahola Ward for a timely discussion on the topic, she explained how Facebook and other social media platforms have been able to manipulate users into sharing huge amounts of their personal information through seemingly innocuous apps and games.

When this happens, there’s often a lack of informed consent from users – and their personal data can then be used for any number of nefarious purposes.

But there is a solution.

Data Ownership in the Age of Social Media

Digital assets, also known as cryptocurrencies or tokens on the blockchain, are “now being used to secure personal data,” explained Kaiser, and Ward noted that non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in particular can help consumers own their data.

“I believe the future is going to be in NFTs,” said Ward. In fact, that’s a future we’re working toward at Veritoken Global, as we successfully utilize NFTs to create something valuable for businesses and individuals worldwide: the verification of products, assets, and data on the blockchain.

Despite its importance, however, blockchain technology isn’t the silver-bullet solution, both Kaiser and Ward acknowledged. It’s crucial that legislation also be passed to protect consumers and prevent the abuse of their personal data.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, for instance, was a response to this need for legislation. (Check out our post from last year summarizing the new law.)

As Ward put it, the GDPR essentially served as a “corporate death penalty,” strictly regulating and blocking many of the avenues companies have taken to build immense wealth based on data collection.

“Blockchain allows us the ability to self-regulate, especially with NFTs, but we may still see the congressional hearings on big tech lead to new laws,” Ward added.

Solving the Social Media Problem

Data ownership on an individual level also necessitates changing the way social media platforms work. Dr. Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia and CIO of Everipedia, spoke at SXSW during a featured session about how and why we need to decentralize social media.

As we previously reported, he pointed to the disinformation that’s rampant on social media platforms today and called for open data standards – and we definitely agree.

Commenting on the same problems discussed by Kaiser and Ward, Dr. Sanger explained:

“[Social media platforms] make money not only by putting us under the microscope on behalf of advertisers, but also by manipulating users in all sorts of ways that aren’t in their interest. If we owned our own data, and the entire system was decentralized, then Facebook and Google wouldn’t be able to do this.”

Blockchain, as the preeminent technology of decentralization, is ideal for this goal, but not strictly necessary if common standards and protocols for social media can be established, Dr. Sanger said.

The challenge is getting people to coordinate for a mass migration off centralized forms of social media. To address this, Dr. Sanger is calling for privacy-conscious influencers to help spark the move to “more privacy-respecting platforms.”

For more on the featured sessions at SXSW 2019, see our previous post highlighting the great blockchain content we enjoyed this year!

Tokenization for Data Ownership

Other voices at SXSW discussed how tokenization – or the placing of real-world assets on a blockchain network – can help ensure data ownership for individuals.

During an unofficial panel, Carrie Eldridge, founder of ATO Gallery, described the merits of tokenizing artwork on the blockchain. She noted that this tokenization serves as a “legal obligation that protects both the token holder and the artist.”

At the ConsenSys Blockchain House, “The Future of Music” panel covered this topic, as well. Phu Styles, Vezt advisor and founder of the Women in Blockchain Foundation, shared her optimism about tokenization and its potential impact for musicians, artists, and other IP owners.

“The decentralized future I am working hard to create alongside my fellow blockchain evangelists,” she said, “[is one] where we can profit off our data instead of corporations.”

At Veritoken, we wholeheartedly agree.

For more, see Rachel Wolfson’s original report, “Wikipedia Co-Founder and Others Debate Blockchain Technology and Data Ownership at SXSW.”

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