The Tracking Versus Privacy Debate

As a consumer what is more important, experience or confidentiality? Some would argue this is the debate between tracking and privacy. But should you have to, or do you need to pick between one or the other?

In this article, we are going to discuss this and look at a new platform which may be here to answer these concerns.

Woman using smartphone and laptop

Tracking seems to have been in the news forever. It has, and for good reason.

Recent news

There was the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica incident, which has since led to Facebook releasing its latest advert to recommit to its old message of ‘Here Together’.

Then there was the scorpion beast that was the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), where not only large companies heavily invested in its preparation for the new legislation, but online businesses and websites across the world felt its initial sting on resources.

You may recall the number of sites in Europe that could not be accessed when the legislation became live. Even the publisher for the Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News and other well-known newspapers fell victim to it (Schechner, 2018).

How can platforms answer this?

However, through all this confusion it seems that a new platform has arisen. Openbook. It is designed to keep your private life private and create a safe space online where you don’t have to worry about what businesses are doing with your data.

Openbook is meant to encompass the values Facebook always talks about but never shows in its actions. It should be noted Openbook is not the same as the browser Openbook from a few years ago.

Facebook’s tracking is far more in depth you can imagine, anything from where you’re going, the websites you visit, your financial status, your mood and your interests are all fair game.

This information can then be used to provide you will a better more personalised experience or be sold to advertisers to allow for more targeted marketing. On the other hand, Openbook will not track any of these and will not share this information with advertisers; making sure your data stays private.

Who is supporting this platform?

Philip Zimmerman, a renowned cryptographer and privacy activist, is one of the founding members of Openbook. His knowledge in this area is helping to enforce the ideals of privacy and anti-tracking on the site.

What does it mean for the user?

The whole premise of Openbook is that you get to interact with people, not businesses or advertisers. The motto for the platform “open source, zero tracking, zero spying, zero ads” is a clear example of this ethos and what people have done when creating the platform.

Is this really possible?

Often people think tracking is conducted for sinister and dubious reasons. Yet, tracking allows you to see how your online presence is growing and what is and isn’t working. As a result, the consumer can then receive a better experience. Therefore, to have a completely “zero tracking” experience, you will forfeit the possibility to optimise and improve your service.

How is Openbook going to make money if they don’t have ads?

In the beginning, Openbook is planning on running by itself and its investors and then later, opening a storefront on the site. From here, they can then make a commission for purchases made. However, this they say themselves is a long way off.

Although, it is hard to deny the lure advertisers have and the money that can be made from them in the long run, you could argue Facebook started with the same principles; about bringing people together and creating worthwhile experiences.

However, the recent decline in Facebook’s stock prices highlights a common mistrust in the platform with investors as well as users. The drop in recent weeks (at the time of writing this article) being £91bn. This being the most dramatic fall ever in the history of Wall Street. This is therefore, a clear example of the current climate (Azeez, 2018).

Following this fall in stock market value, Facebook is looking to start monetising WhatsApp; which they purchased for $19bn (£14.9 bn) in 2014. To do this Facebook is looking to allow businesses to send direct messages and act as a platform for organisations to directly engage with their customers.

However, although this will continue to be an end to end encrypted channel there seems to be a catch 22 happening here. Allowing businesses to target you in such as way seems to violate the principle of privacy that end-to-end encryption suggests and WhatsApp has so far based itself on.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out as the balance between tracking and privacy continues.

Is it going to work and is Openbook a solution or at least a right step toward privacy online?

Is Openbook going to be a David vs Goliath situation? The problem with being a competitor of Facebook and giving an alternative social network is that the market is already saturated. Platforms like Facebook work because of its huge user base.

Virtually everyone is on Facebook which makes it in incredibly hard to leave the heard and try something new. But as people begin to lose trust on the platform, are people going to be more accepting of new alternatives? The short answer is yes.

Platforms like this live and die by their users and numbers can be as important as the platform itself. The difference between Facebook and Openbook is that Facebook was revolutionary when it came out and there was nothing close to what it provided.

Now the market is extremely saturated meaning the task of creating a new platform is more important than ever!

The USP for Openbook is its privacy-centric ideals. But is this enough? We’re yet to find out and we’ll further see how this is going to affect the ongoing war between tracking and privacy in the coming months.