Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Utter, Utter Facebook Madness

Today I saw one of the daftest arguments I've heard in a long time – it was from a guy called Jaron Lanier – proffering the absurd idea that Facebook should be paying us for the data they gather from us, especially given that they make $3 billion a year in profits from our usage. This is bat dung crazy - and Jaron Lanier seems like he should be doing better - he is, after all, according to Wikipedia, an American computer philosophy writer, a computer scientist, and apparently in the TIME 100 list of most influential people.

Alas, his error is so basic that it's hard to believe it didn't come from someone with a much more consistent track record for buffoonery - someone like Owen Jones or Julie Bindel - people who are remarkable in their ability to get just about every issue wrong.

There are two obvious reasons why Lanier's proposal is of the utmost buffoonery; the first is that the data Facebook gathers is gathered precisely because people voluntarily want to share it on Facebook. If I make a comment on a philosophy forum, or share holiday snaps from Barcelona, I'm doing so because I value Facebook as a medium through which to share things in that way. Criticising Facebook for having the data that we share on Facebook 'because' of the facilities Facebook provides is as silly as complaining that the roads we use to drive on are bad for our car tyres. Yes, silly, but we drive on them 'because' we are willing to wear out our tyres enjoying the speed, convenience, socialising, and travel opportunities that roads provide.

The second reason should be even more blatantly obvious - it’s that Facebook does already kind of pay us for our time - it pays us in rewards, and those rewards are, of course, Facebook itself. In other words, we don’t need paying for our interactions with Facebook because the reason we spend time on Facebook is because we enjoy it, and because it brings value to our lives in the shape of everything we do on it.

Moreover, let’s just do the maths to see how those profits compare to the number of active users. We’ve seen that the annual profits are $3 billion, and a quick Google search reveals to me that there are currently around 1.5 billion Facebook users worldwide, which amounts to $2 per person per year. If we use a very conservative estimate and say that the average daily Facebooking time is 30 minutes per person, then that means that each of the 1.5 billion people is spending just over 182 hours per year on Facebook. $2 profit for every person’s 182 hours per year seems very reasonable to me – it amounts to less than 1.1 cent per hour.