All around us in the digital age people’s information is being harvested for a variety of reasons, some good but mostly for commercial exploitation in the interest of capital.

A significant proportion of this data concerns individuals’ preferences and desires and their digitally accessible history, behaviour, expressions, habits and actions.

Future of data protection

The advent of the internet, alongside a culture of surveillance and automation, has seen an explosion in the gathering and collation of big data to unheard of levels.

The recent scandals involving Facebook and Google notwithstanding, people are demanding to have control over all the data about them, and not just in the form of an unreadably dense 20-page click-wrap agreement written in legalese.

A decentralised social network: Fediverse

Corporations should by now be aware that there is a movement that seeks to take back control of people’s personal data. It’s called the Fediverse, a very loose collection of open-source software designed to replace the functions of centrally controlled and money-making enterprises like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WordPress, just to name a few.

The most famous of these is the Twitter-like replacement called Mastodon, but there is also Pixelfed to replace Instagram, Friendica to replace Facebook and Peertube to replace YouTube. There are others, blogging and microblogging platforms like Pleroma and diaspora.

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When the Verizon-owned digital Frankenstein’s Monster media conglomerate Oath decided that racy content could no longer be shared on the venerable Tumblr platform, thousands fled to Mastodon, which allows users to post what they want and those who don’t want to see this material can choose to block this content.

The characteristics that make Fediverse replacements interesting include the decentralised nature of the platforms. You either join someone else’s community (or ‘instance’) or set your own up. The mantra of the Fediverse is about user control over data. You can block or mute anyone. You can download all of your own data. You can delete all of your own data. And your data remains yours.

While every instance may have its own content rules, you can find one that suits you based on your interests or identity.

Don’t like an entire instance? You can personally block it. Don’t like the rules or atmosphere on the instance you are on? Download your data and then delete and sign up elsewhere. The point is that this new social media is predicated on control of your data to you and not to an algorithm, or a corporation, advertiser or data collector.

Few are claiming these services will bring down Facebook and Twitter, but they are emblematic of the changing public mood on the use and ownership of data in the digital age.

Business practices will need to change

These technologies and the philosophy behind them are important indicators that business practices will need to heed if they are to keep up with public sentiment.

The introduction of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation was an initial shock to some businesses, but this is just the tip of the spear. Beyond government intervention, we can expect to see substantial pushback from the public in general regarding data and how it is used.

To cope with shifting public perceptions on the question of data, vendors, service providers and IT professionals will be needed to help businesses plan and make the necessary changes.

Restrictions of this type may particularly irritate marketing and sales executives, but getting ahead of the trend and being proactive before legislation is introduced will enhance customer relations and the company’s long term reputation.

Businesses that have disregard for customer data and give control away to outsiders will find themselves on the wrong side of history.