Facebook and Friends Can Be Had! Time to DeFAANG — What, Why and How

By Peter Bernstein
19 Dec 2018

Assuming the headline has your attention, will minimize the suspense.

The time is ripe for the FAANGs (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google) to be DeFAANGed. In the hyper-ventilated jargon of tech, “DISRUPTED!”

The myriad global public policy challenges poised to reshape the virtual world’s landscape are not the focus of this article. Instead, the spotlight is on a business proposition of how the mighty can be felled. And, as a side benefit, some of the pressing social issues can be mitigated or remediated.

What follows is the What, Why and a sprinkling of How the FAANGs can be had. Those with courage, capital and creativity can fill in the blanks.

Spoiler alert. While the FAANGs represent different sectors they have one commonality: The enormous profits they are generating are based on our personal data…why should they reap all of the financial gains from selling it?

What?

Here is my proposal for the creation of a service/platform for disrupting the current—"what’s yours in mine and what’s mine is mine”—personal data-centric business model of existing and aspiring digital data fueled behemoths.

For the purpose of brevity, the proposal has a few foundational characteristics:

  1. Provides users micro payments for use of:
    1. Static personal information. This would include such data as: name, age, gender, physical and virtual addresses, education, income, and more. Payments would be defined and adjusted based on the depth of info needed.
    2. Dynamic personal data. This is the data about real-time or near real-time actions/changes in status of our online personae (we have many depending on our multiple personal and work modes) and our online activities.
  2. Users are NOT anonymous. This entails agreeing to extreme multi-factor authentication.
  3. Is the primary Trust Repository. All participants in this platform must be “trusted” by each other as defined and understood according to the platform’s definition, parameters and control over trustworthiness.

The idea is that like cash-back credit cards, our static and dynamic personal information and activities are monetized for both the platform owner’s and the users’ (our) benefit. “Permission granted” should translate into permission rewarded. And the reward is payment in addition to the current perceived value of connectedness, community and convenience.

In short, it is time for us to share in the wealth (trillions of dollars) we help create for the companies that use our data. This needs to be done in a trusted “E”vironment where use of our personal data is permission-based in something more than fine print. This means well-defined and under greater control by us. It is now time to “show us the money!”

It is also time to make identity transparency the online default. If we can extremely authenticate those with whom we interact, while not a panacea, it is a good first step on two fronts.

First, it can slow the proliferation of hateful speech and false information by malevolent and anonymous actors. Second, it can facilitate a reduction in fraud and thereby increase trust in e-commerce. This is particularly true if used as validation for trustworthy interactions with merchants as an alternative to the increasingly untrustworthy “Access via Facebook Account” or “Access via Google Account.”

Finally, given growing distrust due to data breeches, phishing, ransomware, “fake news,” etc., there is a lot of unlocked potential in being a third-party Trusted Repository and the gateway/gatekeeper for storage and interactions with personal information.

Why?

There is no disputing the Internet’s value. We appreciate the transformative benefits of “connectedness”—communications, community and commerce. In addition, the pace of change digitalization and the exploding power and pervasiveness of computing is mesmerizing, exhilarating and debilitating. Unfortunately, the FAANG’s have taken something of great value from us and provided us with little in return.

Here is a question. In the longish term, what is the most valuable thing you own or do? Is it your:

  1. Salary
  2. Home
  3. Collectibles (Beanie Baby collection?)
  4. Personal Information and Identity (PI&I)

For almost all of us, the answer is (D). Using FAANG and other digital commerce entity market valuations, the proof is easy to see.

Let’s be frank. Without our PI&I there is no them. Our PI&I is individually and collectively ridiculously valuable. We should be getting paid in something we can bank rather than just experiential gratification. The actual customers of FAANGs are the businesses who want to sell things to us…and they pay hugely to get our FAANG-controlled PI&I.

What this means is that we should not conflate being a user with being a customer.

A Bit More Context on Why

The real Information Age revolution is what the Internet enabled and not the marvels of the underlying technology. At the top of the “revolutionary” list is the profound realignment of the buyer/seller relationship. Buyers’ instant access to detailed free or nominally priced information, alternative sources of supply, and the means to massively disseminate reviews of experiences overturned the historic buyer/seller relationship.

All Big Data, AI, sophisticated analytics, cognitive computing, “deep learning” and the like are just tools for sellers trying to create and leverage ever more detailed profiles of buyers. The better the profile(s) the higher the probability that the customer will purchase more. It is why so much attention is now being paid to “the customer experience” and being “proactive” (exposing us to things we did not even know we should covet). Conversely, scarce resources will not be over-used by sellers to chase the unpromising customer prospects.

The Holy Grail of the digital behemoths is to create “E”cosystems where thanks to ever more perfected profiling our options are always in their “E”vironment. Stated another way, if they can monopolize our time online, regardless of the persona we are in, our wallets will follow.

The value to those looking to sell us something thus gravitates to those who dominate our online presences.

Additionally, on the point about the need for extreme authentication, particularly regarding social media/publishing platforms, “free speech” should have a price as part of a “social” contract. While not a failsafe solution, deep authentication would certainly put a damper on the challenges arising from the current pervasiveness of malevolence, propaganda and lies from anonymous users.

A little How?

It is time for a paradigm shift. Is there a new company that has the courage, creativity and capital to DeFAANG the masters of the digital universe through better rewards for the use of our PI&I?

No doubt such a new player would be subject to the opposition of the FAANGs. The unprecedented financial and political strength of the incumbents, as history instructs, will likely:

  • Use every means available to thwart disruptors,
  • Copy what could/should turn out to be a good idea,
  • Buy the renegades for offensive or defensive reasons.

Does this mean there is no hope for those who think giving a monetary reward to users for their patronage is doomed to failure? Hardly! I believe that when we get money for participation in a platform, that platform will become our favorite.

What we know is that the International Fortune 500 list of 10 years ago is very different from today’s list. Thanks to “The Age of Acceleration” in which we live—where the only constants are change and the speed at which it is coming at us—it is likely the list will look vastly different in five years.

We should be moving toward a more permission-based online world. This includes, permission granted to DeFAANG!

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