Facebook and Google have been monetising our lives, but we can (and should) monetise them back.
While we were all sharing pics of our morning cappuccino and cute cats, Facebook was scraping our lives and turning the shavings into hard cash. Whenever we clicked that like button we were clicking money directly into Mr Zuckerberg’s bank account. The button ought to come with a loud ka-ching sound effect. The icon is a thumb’s up, but it may as well be a dollar sign. Or perhaps the thumb means ‘Cheers, mate! Another one born every minute!’
Let’s try a little thought experiment. Imagine Starbucks was eliciting donations of coffee beans and milk from its customers and then selling them back to us as cappuccino. We’d see right away that this wasn’t a caring-sharing business model, we wouldn’t have to scrunch our faces in an agony of dilemma and say, yeah, but, I like Starbucks coffee. We’d just go elsewhere. Yet, this is more or less how Facebook works and how many of us are reacting to it.
Or put another way, if I came into your living room, nicked the photos off the wall and sold them on the street, I’d be arrested. It would be called theft. In Facebook’s case, it’s called an innovative business model.
How much money has Facebook made over the years? Well, even Wikipedia doesn’t know. It’s a number so big only astrophysicists can deal with it. A year ago, Facebook was valued at $407 billion. Mr Zuckerberg himself is, at the time of writing, valued at $61 billion, which while being about $14 billion down on this time last week, is still a lot of cappuccino.
Facebook’s business model was no secret, but now it turns out that the ship of ghouls is a leaky old tub, and was open to piratical plunder by just about anyone who cared to wander in by way of an inane personality quiz and nick the family digital silverware. More alarming still, anyone with a political axe to grind was hacking in too. These players were not so much swinging elections as swinging them around their heads.
Users have been feeling a mite let down and, rallying to #deletefacebook, have been deserting that ship in droves, which, at first thought, seems like a wholly reasonable reaction.
Let’s face it, many people like the ‘Book. In these times of restless populations and scattered families, and especially for those of us who live abroad, Facebook has proved a neat way of staying in touch. We can keep up with our pals and family across continents and timezones just as well as with those across town. The primary means of communication for the professional organisations I belong to is Facebook. If you run a small business you can get your message to the punters without shelling for the huge ad rates of traditional publications. We can cosy up with our favourite celebs and our heroes, and immerse ourselves in everyone else’s breakfast 24 hours a day.
There are those users who are unconcerned about this data piracy. When people say they don’t care about Facebook taking their data, they are saying they don’t care that their lives are grist for a rich man’s money mill.
So, deleting your account or just ignoring the situation are two options, but I have a better idea, and it’s a very simple one.
Mr Zuckerberg, you have made gazillions of dollars from our data, so why don’t you simply pony up? Why don’t you pay us our share?
It would be like your users, the ones you once referred to as ‘dumb fucks,’ becoming your business partners, becoming real stakeholders — in short, it would be like Facebook becoming a respectable business.
So the simple remedy is for Mr Zuckerberg to share his enormous profits with the people who have provided the raw materials for his product. We can be paid a fair price according to how much we have engaged with the platform over the years. That would be easy for Facebook to work out since they have kept a record of every interaction you’ve had with anybody on their platform since you joined.
So, that’s a gazillion dollars divided between 2.2 billion users … you do the sums. There must at least be a cappuccino in that for each of us. And if this is to be a community and not a factory farm for data, we should then each of us have control over which bits of our lives to monetise, and which bits should be kept out of the data store. If this happens, Facebook may start to look like the community we all thought it was when we started using it.
And when we’re done with Facebook, we can make the same deal with Google, which has collected even more data on us. Where Facebook is a vacuum cleaner for data, Google is a black hole.
After all, Mr Zuckerberg, as you capitalists are fond of pointing out to us dumb fucks, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
And why shouldn’t I be paid for my data? It is after all my life.
Afterword: I have started a Change.org petition aimed at getting Facebook and Google to accept their responsibilities. You can join in here.