If Companies Won’t Pay Your For Your Data…

…then maybe we should make them. I’m getting ahead of myself here. With all of the hullabaloo about Mark Zuckerberg possibly running for president (though probably in the wrong party), it’s worth remembering just how creepy a company Facebook is (boldface mine):

This goes to the heart of the question of what Facebook is and what it does. For all the talk about connecting people, building community, and believing in people, Facebook is an advertising company…

What this means is that even more than it is in the advertising business, Facebook is in the surveillance business. Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind. It knows far, far more about you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens. It’s amazing that people haven’t really understood this about the company. I’ve spent time thinking about Facebook, and the thing I keep coming back to is that its users don’t realise what it is the company does. What Facebook does is watch you, and then use what it knows about you and your behaviour to sell ads. I’m not sure there has ever been a more complete disconnect between what a company says it does – ‘connect’, ‘build communities’ – and the commercial reality. Note that the company’s knowledge about its users isn’t used merely to target ads but to shape the flow of news to them. Since there is so much content posted on the site, the algorithms used to filter and direct that content are the thing that determines what you see: people think their news feed is largely to do with their friends and interests, and it sort of is, with the crucial proviso that it is their friends and interests as mediated by the commercial interests of Facebook. Your eyes are directed towards the place where they are most valuable for Facebook.

Facebook isn’t alone in this. Many companies do this, if on a much smaller scale. It’s a real problem, as Frank Pasquale has laid out in The Black Box Society. Not only are there all sorts of financial costs associated with this collection of data, everything from higher interest rates to differential pricing to creating incorrect assumptions about you that follow you (and that you can’t purge even if they’re wrong), but it’s also essentially unavoidable–does anyone think a post-Citizen’s United Congress will do anything to stop this?. So I find this idea very intriguing (boldface mine):

But for half a millennium universal basic income has remained little more than a utopian dream because it has always crashed up against the rocks of reality. The chief objections are ones of principle and practicality, encapsulated in two questions.

Why should people be paid to do nothing? And how could we possibly afford it?

…Like other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, Mr Zuckerberg believes that thousands of jobs are going to be swept away by new technologies, such as driverless cars. In such a world, he says, we need to invent a new social contract. Basic income could be part of the answer.

Some argue that Alaska is a special case as it has just distributed the fruits of an oil bonanza. But it may be possible to find other sources of revenue to fund similar schemes elsewhere. Some have suggested a land value tax. Others have argued for a financial transactions tax.

But there is one other potential source of revenue that Mr Zuckerberg knows all about: data. If, as the saying goes, data are the new oil then we may have found a 21st-century revenue stream. Data could do for the world what oil has done for Alaska

The most valuable asset that Facebook possesses is the data that its users, often unwittingly, hand over for free before they are in effect sold to advertisers. It seems only fair that Facebook makes a bigger social contribution for profiting from this massively valuable, collectively generated resource.

Hell, tax them by the byte.

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2 Responses to If Companies Won’t Pay Your For Your Data…

  1. zero says:

    Basic income isn’t paying people to do nothing, it’s paying them to be predictable consumers. It’s also paying them to accept less money from employers.

  2. cirze says:

    Not addressing the NSA funding yet?

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