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Facebook Ushers in the Age of Data Democracy

Social Network is Taking Data Privacy Seriously and So Should the Rest of the Industry

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If you thought that Facebook's anonymous login announcement at F8 was merely a publicity stunt, you were wrong. The social media platform, with more than 1.28 billion users, is seemingly taking a lesson from its newly acquired company WhatsApp -- protecting and better serving its users over its advertisers, which is what WhatsApp is notorious for doing so well.

This isn't Facebook's attempt to continue to attract users to the platform, and it certainly isn't a move that has stakeholders particularly excited (less ad revenue is never a good thing in the boardroom). Rather, it is the world's largest social media company taking responsibility for the massive troves of identity data it has collected. It is Facebook laying the groundwork for the future of online identity, taking the White House's 78-page big-data report to heart and making data collection and usage transparency a requirement for brands.

Those in the big data industry have long been advocating for such a move from such an influential company. After all, with behemoths like Google processing 20+ petabytes of data a day, Walmart handling more than 1 million customer transactions every hour, and YouTube having 100 hours of video content uploaded to the platform every minute, the underdogs in the big data field need the large corporations to do the right thing.

For most users on the web, especially as a consumer's baseline data intelligence increases, the right thing is transparency during collection and usage -- the ability to opt out, proper security measures around the data collected and policies in place for how to properly handle a breach, if one should occur.

On the surface, the right thing doesn't seem to entail much. But for big companies like Google and Facebook, ensuring user privacy and security extends much further than encryption services and transparency messages. For the behemoths in the industry, they must also fight the good fight at the legal level.

To be clear, many of the public's more trusted sites and platforms do not make it a priority to fight for user privacy rights in court or at the policy level in Congress, according to a report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Amazon fights for user privacy rights in Congress, but not in courts. LinkedIn, Pinterest and Tumblr follow suit. Snapchat does neither, nor does Adobe.

Apple, Facebook, Google, Dropbox, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo all do fight tooth and nail for user privacy, when and wherever needed, according to the report.

However, Facebook is currently the only platform taking its user privacy rights fight seriously, not just when needed, but before those rights are placed in jeopardy. Following the announcement of anonymous login, which allows users to choose to use Facebook's social login without handing over any identity data, the platform has now changed its default post setting from "public" to "just friends." In the coming weeks, as reported by The New York Times, Facebook will be issuing a privacy check-up to all of its 1.28 billion users -- walking them through new security updates, educating them on platform visibility, and giving them the immediate opportunity to turn their public data private, for their own sake and comfort.

It's a bold move that few are applauding, and it is quite a departure from the Facebook users have known in the past. For most of its 10-year history, Facebook has pushed and often forced users to share as much information as possible, as publicly as possible. Those pushes resulted in backlash from users who understood the implications, though much of the features were hidden deep within the platform's security framework --- causing many users to be unaware of the changes.

This is not the Facebook you see today -- and it's likely it won't ever be that Facebook again. With the emergence and rapid popularity of privacy-friendly platforms like WhatsApp, Snapchat, Secret and Whisper, it's clear that younger users aren't only looking for private and secure services, they are savvy about where to find them, how to use them and, perhaps the most disruptive of all, how to build them if they do not exist.

Importantly, Facebook isn't just enforcing transparency policies on themselves, nor are they simply educating their users on their personal data rights. The platform is making sure that brands, too, abide by the rules, only taking what they need and doing it all with the intention to make the internet a better place for the users.

The internet is our largest shared resource, and Facebook is our largest shared community. Kudos to the Facebook team for standing up for internet democracy and making sure that the web remains a place we can use sans unbridled fear. May every data collection platform follow in Facebook's footsteps, and help to radically alter our understanding of intellectual property and make us all more aware of the data we share.

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