The companies listed in this thread’s title are 3 of the 5 most valuable companies on the Fortune 500 list.* The other two in the top 5 are Apple and Microsoft, also tech companies collecting loads of information about you.
Please consider the following points:
- These companies’ primary source of revenue is advertisements (with the important exception of Apple and Microsoft, who make the devices which show the advertisements.)
- Those advertisements are placed in front of people using A.I. to determine what ad will be most effective for each user.**
- A.I. doesn’t work without TONS of data. To make a program “smart”, you have to train it by showing it lots and lots of examples.
- The examples which train the A.I. advertising programs are collected from your online activity, location, emails, etc. The more user data that is collected, the better the A.I. gets.
- This allows companies to create massive amounts of value based on free, voluntary contributions from users. As a result, the biggest tech companies’ labor expenses-to-income ratios are only 5 to 15 percent. Walmart, by comparison, is at 80 percent.
The question is, shouldn’t we be compensated for helping to create all these billions of dollars of value for these companies? Isn’t the data created by you a form of intellectual property, as Jaron Lanier argues here?
Whether you think that compensation comes in the form of a tax, as is currently being attempted in Europe, as a voluntary system set up by an alliance of social media companies, or as a system regulated by the government, may depend on your personal political beliefs. But if there is one unifying principle to the movement behind humane technology, I think it is that we must demand that social media companies pay a fair price for all of the data which is the #1 factor behind their success. It would not solve all of the problems with data capitalism, but I think it is a major foundational piece that needs to happen before we can ever imagine a humane society based on big data.
As far as a grassroots effort to raise awareness of this and put it in the eyes of politicians, I think there are a few things which could be done:
- Develop a detailed petition on change.org or similar platform
- Write a template letter for people to send to their local politicians
- Develop an “invoice” for people to send en masse to executives of large social media companies. This one is a bit silly but would act as a symbolic gesture of taking ownership of one’s own data.
There are always detailed and interesting responses on here, so I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this issue. Thanks!
*Fortune only ranks U.S. companies, for what it’s worth.
**In theory, the A.I. makes ads more efficient, which makes the platform far more attractive for advertisers who want to microsegment their audiences than “bludgeon” style ad platforms like TV and radio