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If there's one concrete point that emerged from this whole thing, it's that data is, and will continue to be, king. It's already the driving force behind profits for most social media companies, according to Muanis. "The only money they make nowadays is by selling statistical data. What people are interested in, what they might buy in each region, depending on the site's privacy terms and things like that."
You've probably noticed this part already, courtesy of angry, re-posted Facebook statuses, or that time when everyone quit Instagram. "We keep getting stuck in this rut where every time Facebook changes its privacy settings or someone introduces a new personalized product, there's an eruption of discontent among privacy advocates on the web," Weston noted. Aside from a number of older users who are more inclined to be suspicious of having their data shared, there's also the fundamental "existential crisis" of social media to be considered.
"There's the me that I project to the world on Facebook that I want you to know," Weston explained, "and there's how I actually use the web — say, the porn sites I visited, or the searches I executed because I didn't know the answer to an obvious question. All those things are things that nobody want to be the 'them' in public."
As such, there will most likely be a small but passionate sector of privacy advocates focused on keeping their data offline ("Everyone loves 'open' until they don't," says Delamarter), and maybe even creating multiple digital "identities" for different purposes. Which is all part of the plan, anyway, with the market's focus driving ever more toward niches. "They'll be an audience someone needs to cater to," said Weston.
But it's not all about personal, demographic information going public in a way that most obviously benefits businesses. It's also about concrete, publicly useful data, Poferl explained, citing a coworker who incorporated Google's data set to help create a comprehensive map of volunteer locations during Sandy, or the World Bank's investment in putting information online for amateur statisticians to use in potentially groundbreaking research. Sooner rather than later, almost everything will be, in some form or another, out in the open.