2014 marks the end of a truly remarkable era. No, I’m not talking about Derek Jeter’s retirement, although baseball fans lucky enough to have watched the future Hall of Famer will miss him greatly. If you’ve heard me in recent months on CNN or dozens of radio interviews, then you know I am talking about what I call “the Facebook Era: 2004-2014.” In its wake, comes the great Internet divide — the old way of doing business versus the new.
Technology leaders such as World Wide Web founder Sir Tim Berners-Lee are calling for a new Magna Carta to control (and outlaw) data-slurping Internet emperors. “I want a web where I’m not spied on, where there’s no censorship,” Berners-Lee said in a recent interview. Berners-Lee envisions a web that holds true to core privacy principles where our online persona is the same as our offline one.
Other respected leaders have similarly acknowledged the irreconcilable chasm in online privacy before us. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, recently fired a rocket over the scraping bow of Google, positioning Apple in the coming great divide of 2015.
“We sell products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers … We don’t monetize the information you store … We don’t read your email or messages to get information to market to you.”
This shot so inflamed Google’s chairman, Eric Schmidt, that he immediately bullied back by appearing on CNBC’s Squawk Box, asking aloud if Cook was familiar with how Google works. Clearly, Cook’s message hit too close to home.
The truth is, in our relationship with the data emperors, we feel creepily violated. A line in the sand has been drawn. Just to be clear here, that line is not announcing the demise of the Facebook. The company still has hundreds of millions of users, making them the 800-pound gorilla of social media and the Internet. And no, I am not suggesting that Google, the toothy, wooly mammoth that it is, may be trending towards extinction either. The company has acquired every possible data-spying enterprise, from satellites to in-home controllers. They’re not going anywhere soon.
I am referring to the dominant relevance of these companies. People have had enough. Facebook has spiraled from cool and the next big thing to functionally invasive and universally distrusted, even more than the IRS — yes, the IRS.
Facebook, as an idea, provided a platform for sharing and reconnecting with friends and loved ones. It offered a pulpit for free speech and showing the world’s injustices. In that respect, Zuckerberg and company provided an important rung in the advance of online technology. But at the end of the day, that is all Facebook offered, a step as opposed to a foundation. For Facebook has and continues to betray its potential in too many ways to count. From secret subject testing and disturbing facial recognition technology to data mining and censorship, Facebook has entirely overstepped the boundaries of good taste, safety, and privacy. And let us not forget a Messenger App that demands access to everything about us, making one wonder who our messages are really for. As Berners-Lee so eloquently pointed out, “The ethos of Facebook is rather different from the anonymous Internet.”
The Facebook Era opened the floodgates to a suite of data-mining social media kissing cousins, Google+, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Path, to name but a few. Even Marissa Mayer reinvented Yahoo in the mold of Facebook’s data trove model.
If we apply Geoffrey Moore’s Technology Adoption Life Cycle (TALC) model to these companies, it gives credence to Princeton’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering study suggesting Facebook could lose upwards of 80 percent of its peak user base by 2017. Facebook may have created a standard of sorts, but the standard itself has now been called into question. Personally, I’ve had it. I’m not for sale and I want my privacy back.
So what’s next? In three words: privacy, respect, freedom. In 2011, I came knocking on the doors of established Silicon Valley financing titans, telling them people would awaken and reclaim their privacy rights. The sneering and sarcasm directed at me would have made Mona Lisa blush. It was my Galileo moment. No one takes on Facebook. No one makes mama mad.
But here we stand today on the precipice of fundamental change and no one is mocking the message anymore. A Harris Interactive Poll in July found that 99 percent of Americans now care about their online privacy, 71 percent deeply. This earthquake, once rumbling in the distance, is now shaking the old standard to its core.
As the ground beneath them shakes, Silicon Valley seeks to retrofit their wares. Tim Cook sends out online messages telling consumers we want our technology to cater to your privacy concerns. Mark Cuban launches Cyber Dust to in his own words “redefine privacy.” Ello creates a sudden hubbub, even though they’re nothing more than an anti-Facebook noisemaker. Even Zuckerberg himself recants his brash declaration that privacy is dead. The list goes on and on.
The Boston Consulting Group’s famous Growth Share Matrix has been around for close to fifty years, helping companies outline competitiveness and market attractiveness. Given the rapid pace of unpredictable change in today’s Dot.com Era marketplace, the longevity of companies has greatly shrunk. Are companies such as Facebook at their pinnacle as “cash cows” en route to becoming “dogs” because their monopolizing market segment sweet spot is evaporating? Online and offline privacy is more than a legislative issue today. It is a movement, a swell of discontent and desire spreading like “the wave” at a ballpark. This is both an auspicious and exciting time!
A new era is upon us. That is why Berners-Lee is speaking out to the world, supporting companies that heed the battle cry. Berners-Lee recently joined MeWe’s advisory board to help launch our next-generation communication network. The silver bullet of MeWe and other companies such as search engine DuckDuckGo is that they are engineered with “Privacy by Design” as opposed to “Privacy Band-Aids after the fact.” In MeWe’s case, there’s no data scraping, facial recognition, or tracking cookies. The revenue model is based on respecting members as partners, offering optional services and products that are helpful to their lives.
The Facebook Era has been world-changing, and truly magnificent in the expansion of world connectedness that it has created. Now 10 years old, Facebook has been around for almost 40 percent of the life of the web. With the pace of innovation and rapid change in technology, that is akin to being a 100 year-old enterprise in the new world. Fresher companies are emerging, challenging the tired way of doing business.
The shots being fired around the Internet foretell a new web order. The privacy revolution is here!