Invading Privacy vs. Making Money

Posted by jlubans on March 26, 2018

Caption: Exposed.

I googled moving boxes, the kind you pack with. I found what I wanted and closed the browser.
An hour later, I clicked for a weather projection. With it came an in-your-face ad from an office supply company - a quarter screen, promoting guess what?
How do you think that happens? Coincidence? Who pays what to whom?
Many, we are told, are aghast over recent reports of data mining and exploitation of “private” user data at Facebook.
While we have known about and participated in sharing personal information since the beginning (do you remember when you bought a diamond ring or a washing machine on Amazon, the “Zuke” would alert all your “Friends”?. Presumably, a bit of a prompt for “keeping up with the Joneses”, an ancient advertising trick.
For the longest time these practices, maybe a tad tawdry, were OK.
Why no longer? Maybe its the realization that Facebook et al. do not discriminate – when there’s money to be made - among political parties or political philosophies or friends or enemies or love or hatred, bigotry or tolerance.
The naked truth: Facebook (Google, Twitter, Linked-in, et al.) make big money by selling away our privacy, including our every click.
The super cool dudes and dudettes in Silicon Valley may espouse egalitarianism but they behave like robber barons. How else can they afford to live in downtown San Fran?
Whoever has the most money - Russian rubles, Ukrainian hryvnia, Saudi riyals, Iranian rials, and Chinese yuan accepted - the greater your access to private data for whatever purpose you wish.
Facebook and Google are worried – no, not about America’s growing mis-trust in social media - but the hit to the wallet kind of worry.
On March 25, the WSJ ran this story:
Facebook and Google Face Emboldened Antagonists: Big Advertisers”
So I am reposting my (prescient, eh?) February 28, 2018 indie author’s perspective (revised) on how this works out for the little guy:
“Information Wants to Be Free” (Almost)
The qualifier – almost - explains why since back in the day (1984, no less!) we have competing systems: vast ranges of free information and numerous fenced in sources of information.
We now know much of the Internet is not free.
Nor is there a middle class in the Internet economy.
There are the Have Nots, all of us under the long, long tail of the Internet (steerage) and there are the Haves up in First Class.
The Haves are a peculiar sort, because they do not provide content – the words, pictures, videos, selfies, and essays.
The Haves arrange the content and control the content, and husband how it is used. They manage it and they sell it to make money.
In other words, never have so many written so much for free to be read by so few so what they write can be monetized by a few, namely Google and Facebook through advertising revenue.
It is as simple as that. There is nothing innovative about this. What is new is that the exploitation – dare I say collusion? - has never been so complicit or gigantic.
When will content providers (including those of us who share cute cat videos or who write blogs) come to terms with this?
To their credit, the Haves created mechanisms for the “sharing” of the content and for linking to the content.
What about the Have Nots?
Yes, we are willing participants.
We seek “likes”, we seek “comments”, we want to be read – often we are happy to make our information free.
But do we really want to do that so a very few benefit while we get nothing back beyond a little recognition or fleeting pleasure?
A few days ago the WSJ wrote about proposed legislation that would permit publishers to engage in collective bargaining with those profiting from their content.
Facebook’s news stream, visited by millions we are told, does not pay for the news to which it links.
It does pay for the mechanism of spotting trends (however slanted) via human or machine means, but the linked-to content is free to Facebook or to Drudge or to Google.
Presumably, the content provider does have the opportunity to advertise or to push readers to buy their publications. However, this incidental revenue is tiny when compared to the ad revenue earned by the aggregators (and those who hold and share for a fee millions of bytes of personal information on millions of consumers and voters).
Understandably, the publishers seeing their profits declining, newsrooms depleting and the aggregators’ profits sky rocketing, want a piece of the action.
The legislation would allow publishers, as a combine, to set prices and to seek compensation from those making profit from their work.
How much?
Well, the WSJ has this to say: “Facebook... generated $40 billion in annual revenue from its ability to narrowly target advertisers’ messages to receptive audiences." I am not at all sure about how "receptive" any of the audiences are!
Well, then, what about this blog? I do not seek a profit (nor should I since under the present system revenue is almost impossible.) You could say my information really does want to be free, almost has to be free, if anyone is to read it!
If I want to “boost” this blog post (the one you are reading) according to Facebook, I can pay them $53.00 to “reach” 48,000 (targeted) strangers on Facebook. That’s for one post.
I suspect were my IP address in Moscow (Russia not Idaho) my post would be boosted as well as long as my credit card paid for it. Add several thousand rubles and I can "reach" several hundred thousand strangers.
The “reach” is manifest in those annoying “boosts” of opinion and products, etc that come out of nowhere on your personal Facebook page mixed in with updates from friends.
Facebook assures me, “Others like you are doing this”. In other words the already congested and polluted pages of Facebook are to become even more cluttered and I am to pay for it.
What’s the sense of that?
As well, I imagine I could do some advertising or "boosting" on Google. As long as I pay for it.
One small step.
I will close the archives to my Leading from the Middle blog (published twice weekly since March of 2010). I will re-gain control of my work by taking it off the grid. If others like me do the same, the Haves might need to come to terms with adding value to our work.
So, does "information want to be free"?
Let's return to the failed premise from which that 1984 quote arose: "information almost wants to be free because the costs of getting it out is getting lower and lower all of the time." The costs of "getting it out" may indeed be ever decreasing, but the costs of creating it have never been higher.

So, stand up to Social Media’s Big Bosses and Minions, buy the peck of Aesopic wisdom to be found in “Fables for Leaders” at Amazon. Or, be clever like the Zuker and get your library to order a copy!

© Copyright John Lubans 2018

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