Why the internet is creepy
Recently I’ve been seeing various articles and opinion pieces that say that Facebook should pay its users to use it, or give a cut of the proceeds when they sell personal data, or something along those lines.
This strikes me a naive to a surprising degree; it means people really don’t understand how web businesses work. How can people simultaneously complain that Facebook isn’t a viable business and that they don’t pay their users for their data?
People have gotten used to getting free services, and they assume that infrastructure somehow just exists, and they want to have that infrastructure, and use it, and never see ads and never have their data used, or get paid whenever someone uses their data.
But you can’t have all of that at the same time!
These companies need to monetize somehow, and instead of asking users for money directly, which isn’t the current culture, they get creepy with data. The fact that there are basically no rules about personal information (aside from some medical information) means that the creepiness limit is extreme, and possibly hasn’t been reached yet.
What are the alternatives? I can think of a few, none of them particularly wonderful:
- Legislate privacy laws to make personal data sharing or storing illegal without explicit consent for each use (right now you just sign away all your rights at once when you sign up for the service, but that could and probably should change). This would kill the internet as we know it. In the short term the consequences would be extreme. Besides the fact that some people would save and use data illegally, which would be very hard to track and to stop, places like Twitter, Facebook, and Google would have no revenue model. An interesting thought experiment on what would happen after this.
- Make people pay for services, either through micro-payments or subscription services like Netflix. This would maybe work, but only for people with credit cards and money to spare. So it would also change access to the internet, and not in a good way.
- Wikipedia-style donation-based services. This is clearly a tough model, and they always seem to be on the edge of solvency.
- Get the government to provide these services as meaningful infrastructure for society, like highways. Imagine what Google Government would be like.
- Some combination of the above.
Am I missing something?