👍 It’s Time to Stop Saying “If You’re Not Paying, You’re the Product”

Liked It’s Time to Stop Saying “If You’re Not Paying, You’re the Product” (Slate Magazine)

There are at least two alternative ways of viewing our relationship to Facebook that hold more promise for making that relationship a healthier and less exploitive one. The first is to view ourselves as customers of Facebook, paying with our time, attention, and data instead of with money. This implies greater responsibility on both sides. If we understood that Facebook and other “free” online services exact real costs to things we value, we might use them more sparingly and judiciously. We might finally grasp that every time we grant new data permissions or sign on to a new privacy policy, we’re almost certainly giving up a lot. Even if we don’t have time to read the whole thing, let alone comprehend it, we could equate it in our minds to spending hundreds of dollars—and then make better decisions about whether that specific app or update is still worth it to us. Ideally this formulation of users as customers forces on Facebook and other apps the responsibility of earning their loyalty, convincing them that their service is worth the tradeoffs, and not violating their trust.

The second is to view ourselves as part of Facebook’s labor force. Just as bees labor unwittingly on beekeepers’ behalf, our posts and status updates continually enrich Facebook. But we’re humans, not bees, and as such we have the capacity to collectively demand better treatment. The technologist and activist Jaron Lanier, carrying this analogy to its logical conclusion in the book Who Owns the Future?, suggested that users of Facebook and other data-hungry online services rise up and demand actual monetary compensation for their data. That seems a little far-fetched, but at the very least citizens and their representatives in governments should demand more robust protections and legal rights. The European Union’s new privacy law, the General Data Protection Requirement, could be viewed as akin to a bill of worker’s rights for users of online services.

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