The Trust Crash: How Our Platforms Are Failing Us At Every Level and What We Can Do About It

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What’s really behind the “privacy controversies” at Facebook, Google, Uber, and Amazon?

Every interaction is part of a network and everyone governing those interactions is running a platform. We as humans have never had more ability to interact with each other and with technology, yet we’ve also never had less transparency about the rules that govern these interactions. Enter the platform, a set of rules to govern interactions.

Whether the interactions be social, e-commerce, transportation, supply chain, healthcare or even civic duty, the most valuable organizations today are those that are creating platforms to govern, adjudicate, influence and control these interactions.

Here comes Goliath, but where’s David?

Consumer-facing Goliaths like Facebook, Google, Uber, and Amazon are the most obvious examples, but this logic applies to less obvious situations as well. Take for example advertising exchange platforms that govern real-time interactions between a website’s advertising space and the consumer brands who wish to reach a specific consumer profile.

As identities have become more disposable, bots have become more prevalent in our daily lives, and the line between on and offline has blurred, the role of adjudicators has become critical to the point where we rely on some form of platform to govern essentially every online and offline transaction in our lives.

Much like fiefdoms, with their own “laws” and “rules”

The majority of these networks and platforms are controlled and governed by a small few who generally have vastly different incentives than those who are conducting the interactions that they are governing. Facebook’s equity holders are incentivized to create the most valuable, predictable users to sell their attention and information to advertisers or others and hit quarterly revenue targets, while a Facebook user is incentivized to create interesting content to generate likes, shares and follows to gain social value.

A shortage of transparency, the ultimate “currency”

If both sides are open and transparent about their incentives and actions, have access to similar information about what is happening on the platform, and have similar ability to make changes to the rules and structure of the platform, then this divergence in incentives is not a big deal. Unfortunately, the platform owners wield outsize power, and that is the critical problem that attends our current platform regime.

The biggest miss in this system is the lack of vision to understand that aligning with long-term and intangible incentives important to consumers almost inevitably leads to superior short-term, tangible returns. But the short-term extractive policies of today’s biggest platforms means users of platforms have never been less happy with their situation. Without an evolution of the power disparity, we’re heading for a trust crash where users move “off the grid,” turn off data feeds, and we lose the benefits of hundreds of years of connective evolution.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are the seeds of a new generation of open platforms and technologies aimed at evolving the platform paradigm to one of transparency, value share, and universal governance representation. Sharing value with users via data revenue share; allowing users access to insights generated about them and their peers and help to understand who is trying to engage with them and why; rev share and benefits for service providers; collaborative governance; and abolition of unilateral platform expulsion or rule changes are just several of the major changes on the table. A whole host of new open platform operating protocols is emerging.

Should we be rooting for “underdogs?”

It won’t be the incumbents who lead the change. The number five and six platforms in a space will adopt these strategies in order to differentiate and compete. It won’t start with a radically open, perfectly transparent platform on day one, but it will start with a bill credit for a portion of the revenues generated with your data.

Change won’t start with a massive increase in profits in Q1, but it will start with smart-money investors recognizing that this is a new way to compete and that these are tomorrow’s unicorns. It won’t start with politicians abandoning questionable vote generating practices, but it will start with someone doing better than expected, taking the multi-generational view over short-term perks.

This is how it will start, but it won’t end until you the user demand better. We’re at a pivotal point where the speed of the world is increasing exponentially and our reliance on platforms to govern our interactions is at an all-time high. If we don’t fix the infrastructure of our platforms, we’re doomed to increasing individual irrelevance and commoditization. Platforms only have value because of their users.

Put in the effort to seek out platforms operating on open principles, demand transparency, demand value sharing, be willing to pay a nominal cost for apps, be ok with a slightly worse user experience in the early days, and look for representatives who are tech-focused, long-term thinking, and understand this framework. Do all of this with the knowledge that by doing so you are making a powerful statement that the long-term matters and that there is more to be optimized for than dollars and cents.

This post by Alex McDougall first appeared on Grit Daily.