Blockchain technology could enable such a future. Like the internet,
blockchains are essentially communication networks, except they are distributed
across many users, or nodes. Every transaction that occurs on the blockchain
must be validated by a majority of the nodes, which makes the technology nearly
tamper-proof and ideal for tracking the exchange of data and value.
Currently, Amazon, Google, Facebook and thousands of other businesses
are profiting from consumer data and there is very little that individuals can
do about it. Technically, you could decide to stop all Amazon purchases, Google
searches, social media posts, emails and essentially give up all use of the web;
but in today’s digital economy, this would be akin to living in a cave. Fortunately,
there may be a middle ground between zero privacy and hermitism.
Imagine if brands and companies had to ask permission to use
your data. Perhaps there are some things you wouldn’t mind companies knowing.
The blockchain-backed Brave
browser shifts power into the hands of consumers by enabling them to determine
which entities can access their data. Consumers using Brave pay publishers
directly in exchange for a more
private, ad-free experience. Brave’s micropayments are processed on a
system of smart contracts that operate on an “if/then” logic: if a user visits
a site, then a micro-payment is subtracted from their digital wallet according
to the user’s manually selected preferences.
Though Brave depends on consumer donations to publishers,
it’s not far-fetched to envision a future where consumers
are rewarded by advertisers for sharing their data. Already some companies
are offering variations of the rewards-for-data premise. Users of the Datacoup marketplace can make $8 per month in
exchange for allowing access to their social media accounts, which are then
aggregated into trends and purchased by advertisers. Datacoup is not backed by
distributed ledger technology, but other companies, such as Hitachi
recognize the security and tracking advantages afforded by blockchains for consumer
The implementation of blockchain technology also greatly
benefits advertisers by smoothing communications between brands and publishers
and decreasing fraudulent behavior.
According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s report on
the cost of trust, the advertising
industry loses $8.2 billion per year to bots, ad-blocking and stolen
Ideally, ads appear to relevant audiences on websites whose
content matches the brands’ values. Regrettably, this doesn’t always occur. In
the current advertising ecosystem, brands have little control over where and to
whom their ads are served.
For example, when an internet user clicks on a pair of shoes,
that shoe advertisement will follow that user’s IP address to other websites,
even if those sites contain offensive material such as pornography or
terrorist-related content. The advertiser, recognizing the IP address, pays the
publisher to serve the ad and inadvertently
funds an organization whose values do not align with its own. Some
publishers and advertisers are already taking steps to actualize a
blockchain-backed network for the advertising ecosystem, including groups such
as the AdLedger Consortium, whose purpose is to bring transparency and security
to the ad tech supply chain.
Endowing both consumers and advertisers with greater control
over their own data is a win-win. Consumers are able to protect their privacy
and potentially earn rewards for sharing limited data, while advertisers are
able to increase their return on investment (ROI) and safeguard their brand