Facebook, Google and other tech companies are accused of
stealing our data or at least of using it without our
permission to become extraordinarily rich. Now is the time, say the
critics, to stand up and
take back our data. Ours, ours, ours.
In this way of thinking, our data is like our lawnmower and
Facebook is a pushy neighbor who saw that our garage door was open,
took our lawnmower, made a quick buck mowing peoples lawns, and now
refuses to give our lawnmower back. Take back our lawnmower!
The reality is far different.
What could be more ours than our friends? Yet I have hundreds of
friends on Facebook, most of whom I dont know well and have never
met. But my Facebook friends are friends. We share common interests
and, most of the time, Im happy to see what they are thinking and
doing and Im pleased when they show interest in what Im up to. If,
before Facebook existed, I had been asked to list my friends, I
would have had a hard time naming ten friends, let alone hundreds.
My Facebook friends didnt exist before Facebook. My Facebook
friendships are not simply my datathey are a unique co-creation of
myself, my friends, and, yes, Facebook.
Some of my Facebook friends are family, but even here the
relationships are not simply mine but a product of myself and
Facebook. My cousin who lives in Dubai, for example, is my cousin
whether Facebook exists or not, but I havent seen him in over
twenty years, have never written him a letter, have never in that
time shared a phone call. Nevertheless, I can tell you about the
bike accident, the broken arm, the X-ray with more than a dozen
screwsI know about all of this only because of Facebook. The
relationship with my cousin, therefore, isnt simply mine, its a
joint creation of myself, my cousin and Facebook.
Facebook hasnt taken our datathey have created it.
Facebook and Google have made billions in profits, but its
utterly false to think that we, the users, have not been
compensated. Have you checked the price of a Facebook post or a
Google search recently? More than 2 billion people use Facebook
every month, none are charged. Google performs more than 3.5
billion searches every day, all for free. The total surplus created
by Facebook and Google far exceeds their profits.
Moreover, its the prospect of profits that has led Facebook and
Google to invest in the technology and tools that have created our
data. The more difficult it is to profit from data, the less data
there will be. Proposals to require data to be portable miss...