Thursday, October 11, 2012

ownership and transparency in social media

Les Writes:
"You don’t own the spaces you inhabit on Facebook. You’re enjoying a party at someone’s house, and you barely know the guy. In fact, your content is the currency that pays for the booze (ie. the privilege of using their servers). That’s why it’s free-as-in-beer: You’ve given them what you post, instead of money. That’s valuable stuff, if they can ever quite figure out how to sell it."  [link]
It's not completely fair to expect that FB users realize the data about them that they so generously contribute to FB no longer belongs to them.  My hypothesis is that many people feel that no matter who has facts about you and prints them, they're still *yours*.  After all, companies have trademarks, can't things about me be mine and reserved for me?

On a smaller scale, the monetization of facts about me is not surprising; I give an interview to a magazine, they print it, it gets syndicated, no surprise.  On a large scale (lots of data collection,  frequently) I think people lose track of with whom they are communicating and get immersed in the task at hand.  Is it my FB friends, or is it FB, who is helpfully telling my friends things?  This system is flexible, crazy, complex, shiny and distracting!  Can I use it to video chat with my friends?  That's neat.  Oh, geez, I forgot FB is in the middle of all this communication...

People who sign up for FB are not signing up to contribute their life to this stranger throwing a party.  They sign up assuming it is a tool they can use to communicate with their friends; it is a machine they've "bought" (for free, heh) to help them communicate.  Nobody reads the terms of service.  Nobody reads the privacy policy.  They accept them since other people have and only read what their friends write.  Many are in denial or do not realize that what they contribute to the site is just that: a contribution.

I think there is shared responsibility here; consumers should be a little bit wary--but this isn't their area of expertise.  As such, the site operator also has a duty to be more forthcoming with what's going on.  My communications tool is supposed to be a communications tool.  If you market it as a "free communications tool that sells my data," I am better informed than if it's just marketed as a "communications tool."