Solving Facebook's Privacy Problem

December 31, 2018


John Gruber writing at Daring Fireball has a solution to Facebook’s privacy problem:

This is what my idea of regulation would entail: every user of every social network should be able to see (and easily find) the entirety of what the network knows about them, and delete any and all of it whenever they want.

The core of this idea is intriguing: it insists on full transparency and puts the consumer in complete control of Facebook’s use of their personal data

Facebook's Trade: Their Service For Your Data

However, Facebook has never been in the business of giving away digital services for free: it’s been involved in a trade (albeit a misleading one): you get free services, and they get usage of your data.

Forcing Facebook to provide its services gratis to users, who will then dictate whether or not the company gets anything in return, isn’t workable.

Opt Out For a Fee

Why not allow individuals, who don’t want to trade any of their data (the price of “free”), to pay a membership fee to join Facebook. This is an opt out.

Facebook could offer tiered pricing. Couple that with Daring Fireball’s notion of displaying the entirety of what the network knows and wants to share about you. Pricing tiers could be by data bucket: Let’s say there are 3 main data buckets (e.g. Location data, Connections Data, Preferences data): each one you opt out of sets your price higher, each one you opt into sets your price lower. Opt into all of them, and you use Facebook for free.

Of course, the ultimate opt-out is to simply stop using the platform. Consumers forget their power.

I would like to see Daring Fireball’s idea applied to all non-membership websites that traffic in selling personal information like phone numbers and addresses; and provide no services to the data “owner.” That activity should be regulated and your information should only be sold if you assent.

Permission-Based Marketing

The best ideas will come from emphasizing a permission-based model.

Remember the good old days of Vindigo (circa 2000) when location-based marketing meant you told the app where you were? (“On Columbus between Chestnut and Taylor”) And what you wanted to do? (“Find good Chinese food.”)

Hopefully, the future will look more like this:, a decentralized, blockchain-based marketplace that pays you in crypto for your time and data.

In the meantime, we need to support regulation that asserts wide control for an individual over their own data (in all spheres, online or offline). But this will first require a sea change in the way that government thinks about their own usage of our data.

Update: In July of 2019, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak suggested a similar solution for popular platforms: “People think they have a level of privacy they don’t. Why don’t they give me a choice? Let me pay a certain amount, and you’ll keep my data more secure and private than everybody else handing it to advertisers.” (Source: CNBC, Wozniak interview with TMZ) We agree, Steve!