Thank you for commenting on my Tweet about Facebook. I couldn't reply back with one tweet, and I didn't want to send a series of them. I need to start writing here anyway, and this is a great way to start.
First, regarding The New Yorker piece, Facebook Should Pay All Of Us, I'm going to deviate a bit from Tim Wu's arguments, but I do think I will attend to at least some facets of the larger discourse.
I'm not at all sure Facebook should pay its users. If the thesis is that personal data has value, that this value can be monetized, that the owner of the data is the user, and that therefore the user should be paid—the closest approximation I can make immediately is: this seems to be an argument, ultimately, for the sharing of the user, as a user and not as an investor, in the profits to be gleaned from companies who will pay Facebook to have access to Facebook's users and hence, their data. It also implies Facebook could, also or instead, pay their users for this said data, as Facebook profits from the companies who pay them for access to user data.
I won't right now attempt the kind of depth a true "long read" on markets, networks, capital, and data can inspire. Instead, I'll say generally—users operate within the market that is Facebook, and they may be the market, but they did not build the market. The market was built for them, and they participate according to the terms that the market originator/generator/builder set—voluntarily.
That the participation is voluntary is key because, as you know, markets have been developed that were involuntary in fact, but voluntary in theory, and operated at the expense of a large segment of many market participants—Third World regions during the modern colonial era is a good example. That kind of paradigm generated a sentiment of mistrust in capital and in markets that carries on until today.
I say that to say, the participation or lack of participation in the Facebook market—and I do indeed think Facebook is a data market—does not determine one's life destiny in the way access to markets for basic infrastructure in a colony or newly formed nation might affect a person or a people's destiny. As fun and useful as Facebook may be, one does not need to be in the Facebook market to live.
This is relevant, because in my view if participation is mandatory there is an argument for shared compensation due to a kind of implied equity co-investment (I use that term as an approximation of meaning, not in the literal definition), but if participation is voluntary, it is up to the voluntary participant to acquiesce to the market's pre-established mandate. Again, this is just my view.
Now you will notice I am sidelining the subject of whether or not using Facebook really is voluntary. Some suggest the social pressure to participate, especially for younger people, is a form of involuntary participation. I do and I do not agree with that, but I am leaving it aside for now.
I am also stepping aside the somewhat thorny issue regarding Facebook users' expectations in relationship to data and advertising, especially for those who signed up circa 2006. It seems to be neither here nor there in this context, and besides, I'm not sure that, "pay me," is a logical successor to, "don't advertise to me."
I am calling Facebook a data market—and you specifically stated there is no market for personal data. Well, I do and I do not agree with that as well. I agree to the extent that people have not gathered together to sell their personal data to the highest bidder, and I'm not sure that would at all be successful anyway.
But, if I do understand Facebook's current business model, does not a majority of revenue come from advertisers who often tailor their ads to users based on user preferences/data? Is this not then a market for personal data—the buyer as the advertiser, the seller as Facebook? (And even if the buyer is only paying for access, and the data is ancillary, it's still a market, as the access would be far less valuable without the personal data.)
Further, regarding the Internet of Things, and the global market anticipated therein, is not user data, facilitated by platforms such as Facebook, and Facebook's acquisitions, a major component of the information flowing over IoT communication networks, connecting things and computing systems?
I don't think that if we agreed to call this phenomenon a market of and for personal data it would be a rationale for Facebook users to share in profits gleaned from that data, but I also don't think that because users do not share in profits, it means there is no market offering financial incentives for that data.
In my view there is a market for personal data, but individual person's don't manage that market or profit from it as users. Those who create or invest in the platform for social networking/personal data do profit from it. I don't know if that's bad, or if that's good, or if "bad" or "good" is a relevant issue. Possibly more important is data integrity, user security, and user experience.
And indeed the notion of value, and further dialogue of what that means, or what it can mean can be important. Because certainly there is value users receive from using tools like Facebook, and it could be argued that this value, if not monetary, is in some ways, or even perhaps more ways, more dear than money.
Thank you so much for reading. I'd be interested in your thoughts.
All the best, Odette