For the first time it seems possible to pay Facebook money instead of giving it personal information to show you ads. During Mark Zuckerberg's Senate hearing last Tuesday, Senators Orrin Hatch and Bill Nelson asked Zuckerberg to allow Facebook users to pay for the service instead of relying on data collection for the current ad-supported business model. Zuckerberg answered these questions: "There will always be a version of Facebook that is free."
This means that there are two ways to have two versions of Facebook, one paid version and one free version. Shortly thereafter, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said in an interview that a paid product is not excluded. This is big news, because turning away from a purely ad-supported business model means turning away from financing most of the Internet.
Many have now proposed moving from a targeted, ad-supported Internet to an Internet platform for pay-for-the-service Internet or otherwise monetizing our personal information. Some divide the annual sales of Facebook simply by the number of users. So, if Facebook cost $ 40.1
It's difficult to monetize your Facebook data because, unlike money, data provides endless revenue opportunities in the long run. For example, if Facebook advertises me for ultra-comfort sneakers, modern furniture and sportswear (do not judge me), it's because Facebook has decided I could buy these products. But Facebook did not decide that based on information it gathered in this session, or this week or this year. Facebook's targeting options are based on information I've collected since joining the platform in 2007. Whatever Facebook shows me reflects years of mine of my data. What is most valuable to Facebook today is not the few minutes I spent visiting the site, but the accumulation of hundreds of minutes of her telling me.
In addition, monetizing your privacy is not just about what it's all about for Facebook, but also what it's worth to you, and that's hard to see because information connects in unexpected ways to more information to reveal about you. Facebook and other companies that follow the same business model as Google can learn a lot of unexpected things about us from the various pieces of information we give them. For example, if you're using wearables, the combination of accelerometer and gyroscope data will determine if your movements are stable or shaky, so you'll always know your level of relaxation. A company that has so much information about us like Facebook and Google takes that unexpected compilation of information to a whole new level. This is crucial for monetization, as the way information is combined is nearly impossible to tell how much information is valuable to a business or to you. Of course, full knowledge of all future aggregations would solve this. But that is hardly possible, because what is being collected today and what has been collected yesterday depends on the context, and nobody knows what new information will come in the future.
As if that were not enough, your Facebook information connects not only with other information about you, but also with information about others. Information about other users is critical to how Facebook extracts benefit, because it makes you appreciate what you like. The company knows that a person with my demographics likes modern furniture, because many other people with my demographics have demonstrated this preference on Facebook. So, if half of the people with these demographics fall from an information-based Facebook to a pay-per-month Facebook, the ad-supported profit that comes from all the rest of us would not be half of what it is right now; it would be much lower.
After all, the value of my information for Facebook and its value to me depends not only on what information is collected, but also how it's used. The Cambridge Analytica scandal is the perfect example of this. Even if we overcame all of the above difficulties to monetize someone's personal data, we would need to know exactly how it is used.
So, these are the bad news: While Facebook offers an option to pay rather than being targeted to show ads, it's also likely that people who buy such an option get their personal information collected anyway. Zuckerberg hinted that there could be a version of Facebook that is not free, but he never suggested that he could stop collecting your data. And Facebook is just one example of a ubiquitous business model.
The reason for this is that the most important problem with the current business model is not to rent spots for targeted advertising. The problem is what is being done to make these spots valuable: to collect users' personal information indiscriminately. If you do not see ads, you can make browsing more enjoyable, but it will not solve Facebook's privacy issue.
The way forward is not to delete advertisements through pay or regulations, but to enforce standards for an adequate collection and dissemination of our content private information. Removing the social media from ads will not prevent the next Cambridge Analytica.
Ignacio Cofone is a postdoctoral researcher at the NYU Information Law Institute to understand the potential of collecting and disseminating personal information to consumers. His research interests are data protection law and behavioral economics. Prior to joining NYU, he was a resident fellow at the Yale Information Society Project and legal adviser to the City of Buenos Aires.