Data harvesting vs data sovereignty: What is best for big tech customers?

Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google, said it best in The Social Dilemma, “If the product is free, you’re the product.”

We are able to use platforms like Facebook and Twitter for free because they use us as the product, which means us—the consumers—are getting sold for profit and not seeing a single penny of the revenue we generate for the big tech corporations.

The tech giants of today are all harvesting our data; they are collecting information about what we post online, how we fill out our profiles, as well as what we are interacting with on the internet, and then they use that collected information to create targeted ads and deploy personalized marketing strategies that target us based on our preferences.

Sometimes, the data that tech giants scrape while data harvesting is stolen during security breaches and ends up in the hands of hackers and scammers; as long as you are not the owner of your data, your data is susceptible to getting stolen.

Unfortunately, not many consumers have challenged tech giants on data harvesting and the issues it creates. Unless your data gets stolen during a security breach, your life probably won’t be negatively affected by the way big tech runs the show, others are simply unaware that they are the product. The result is those big tech companies maintain the data harvesting status quo—at the consumer’s expense.

Data sovereignty

When data sovereignty is discussed it typically means that data is subject to the laws and governance structures within the nation it is collected. A good example of this is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU; the goal of the GDPR is to “give individuals control over their personal data and to simplify the regulatory environment for international business by unifying the regulation within the EU.” The more consumer-generated data that the consumer is in control over, the fewer attack vectors there will be for a tech giant to exploit the consumer for a profit.

That being said, a company that gives its users data sovereignty does the opposite of a business that harvests its customer’s data. In a data sovereignty model, the users of the platform are the owners of the information they post on a platform. In some cases, they even have the option to sell that information—just like a data harvester does for them—and profit from it. In a data sovereignty model, the consumer is empowered, in a data harvesting model, the consumer is powerless.

So which model is better?

If you are wondering which is better for the consumer, data sovereignty or data harvesting, the answer is subjective. Let’s take a look at why this is the case. 

In a data harvesting model, you typically get to use the platform or service at hand for free; as we mentioned above, this is because you are the product. Despite being the product, the fact that the platform is free to use is appealing to an astonishing amount of people. Most people are simply looking to connect with their friends, family, and people they are interested in keeping up with (musicians, athletes, celebrities, etc.), and are nowhere close to being technologically savvy enough to even be aware of the data harvesting taking place. 

Now, in a data sovereignty model, there may be restrictions in place regarding how you use the platform, or, you may even need to pay to use the platform. If there is a walled garden in place, the type of consumer we described in the paragraph above would be deterred from using the platform; not everyone sees the value of being data sovereign or paying to play. 

On the bright side, in a data sovereignty model, like Twetch for example, you have the opportunity to profit off of the data that you create and publish to the platform and can rest assured that the service provider is not exploiting you.

Data harvesting

Pros

Cons

You get to use the platform without paying. 

The platform provider is collecting your data, selling it for a profit, and not giving you a cut of the profit you generated.


Data sovereignty

Pros

Cons

You own your data

The platform you are using might be pay-to-play

There are fewer vectors for the platform provider to exploit you

There may be restrictions in place on the platform you are using

You can sell the data that you own for a profit

 


The choice is yours

As a blockchain or digital currency enthusiast, you may see data harvesting vs. data sovereignty as an issue that is not up for debate with data sovereignty being the clear winner. However, many people’s lives go practically unaffected in a data harvesting model, and beyond that, this same group likes being able to use a platform for free without restrictions.

At the end of the day, as the consumer and the individual that generates the data, it is up to you to decide where you want your data to go. There are pros and cons to each, and I personally believe that it’s better to use the product than to be the product, but I also understand why others enjoy the simplicity of a data harvesting model.

However, the concept of being data sovereign is becoming increasingly discussed, as tech giants like Facebook have been known to abuse their power as data harvesters. As the world continues to discuss the idea of data sovereignty more and more, and blockchain solutions to data harvesting like those created at Twetch become abundant and implemented in other areas of the internet, I would expect more of the world’s population to be aware of data harvesting and why it can be a negative, and then opt to use data sovereign alternatives to the platforms and services that they are using.

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