“Do you have Venmo?” my brother Steve asked.
“Umm…” I stalled for time while trying to decipher what it was – an illness? Yet another version of Netflix? A robot vacuum?
Finally, I admitted that I was not, in fact, with it. Once again, Steve (who is 12 years my junior) would have to enlighten his older sister. Without him, I wouldn’t know about things like Airbnb and Snapchat.
He’s basically my millennial tutor.
For those of you who don’t have one, Venmo is a payment service that allows users to transfer money to one another using a mobile phone app or web interface. With a few swipes, you can settle a debt (or collect on one), which is a whole lot easier than writing a check or taking out cash.
Others seem to agree. In 2016, this app handled $17.6 billion in transactions (Wikipedia). It’s part of a trend that’s been growing for some time where convenience is valued over privacy. If you wouldn’t told me 10 years ago that I’d consider using a mobile payment service, I’d question your sanity. But we’re living in a different world, and it’s a world being driven largely by people who have never paid a bill using paper. People who are willing to put their information out there, whether it’s by tagging their location on an Instagram post or participating in Facebook quizzes.
I’ve thought a lot about this during the past few days, as I’ve been following the latest scandal involving Facebook. I’ve watched as CEO Mark Zuckerberg fielded question after question about the reports that research firm Cambridge Analytica improperly gained access to the personal data of as many as 87 million users. Despite having knowledge of the leak, Facebook didn’t notify the FTC (which it is required to do), and it didn’t notify users.
That’s a problem — a big one.
Even if there wasn’t a legal obligation to fess up, many believe there was an ethical obligation. “What happened here was in effect willful blindness,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal. “It was heedless and reckless.”
And although Zuckerberg owned up, saying “in retrospect that was clearly a mistake,” I wanted more (as did the lawmakers). I wanted an assurance that this wouldn’t happen again. I’m still waiting. Despite being admonished for “a pattern of lax data protection practices,” the 33-year-old billionaire never once committed to making any major changes to the platform.
It’s a strategy Facebook may want to rethink, as legislators are now talking about regulating the tech industry — something that hasn’t been done to this point.
“The status quo no longer works,” said Senator Chuck Grassley, the Judiciary Committee chairman. “Congress must determine if and how we need to strengthen privacy standards to ensure transparency and understanding for the billions of consumers who utilize these products.”
The challenge, noted Grassley, is to do that in a way that doesn’t hinder innovation — something that the healthcare industry knows all too well.
But perhaps an even greater challenge will come in winning back the trust of its users. I don’t care if you’re a Baby Boomer, Gen-Xer or millennial, we all have our limits when it comes to just how much we’re willing to sacrifice for convenience.
Even if Facebook survives this scandal unscathed, sooner or later a newer, cooler platform will become available. And I can’t wait for Steve to tell me about it.