Facebook and Google are free. They shouldn’t be.


Most everyone takes it for granted that Facebook, Google, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram are free. But we all might be better off if we had to pay for these services.

Because we don’t pay them, we aren’t actually Google or Facebook’s customers. They make money by selling ad space and by amassing data on our internet behavior. Google or Facebook’s real customers are the companies paying for that ad space and data. And since the return on any one individual ad is meager, making the business model pay requires collecting vast amounts of data, and then hyper-targeting a ton of ads.

Now, for many tech giants — Apple, Microsoft, Amazon — users are also customers. But for the big internet social and search platforms, we users are more akin to natural resources from which wealth is extracted. If Google and Facebook were oil or coal companies, we’d be the geologic formations and mountaintops they’re drilling and blasting.

Consider how this situation affects privacy. Because we don’t pay them, Facebook and Google have less incentive to treat our data with care and respect. Angering users is less scary than angering actual customers. If anything, keeping your data private is a drag on profitability.

Consider the lack of transparency we have into how we use these services. Facebook’s feed and Google’s search engine are the primary ways millions upon millions of people get news, connect with friends, and find stuff on the internet. But what actually shows up in our feeds and searches is driven by vast and complex algorithms about which we know next to nothing. Tech giants change these algorithms all the time for whatever reasons they see fit: Whole internet businesses and media outlets — not to mention nonprofit and civic organizations — have risen and fallen based on those changes.

“We’re living in this time of total opacity where you don’t know why you see the news you see,” Jaron Lanier, one of Silicon Valley’s grand old men, told The New York Times. “You don’t know if it’s the same news that someone else sees. You don’t know who made it be that way. You don’t know who’s paid to change what you see. Everything is totally obscure in a profound way that it never was before.”

That’s because these algorithms aren’t necessarily designed to help us or better inform us. They’re designed to extract value from us. “Ad-based financing means that the companies have an interest in manipulating our attention on behalf of advertisers, instead of letting us connect as we wish,” wrote Zeynep Tufekci, an assistant professor at the the University of North Carolina’s School of Information and Library Science.

Facebook’s business model is “mass behavior modification for pay,” as Lanier puts it. What effect does that modification have on us as people?

Lanier points to behavioral science showing that negative emotions — outrage, fear, resentment, jealousy — more reliably grab people’s attention and generate responses. On the internet …read more

Source:: The Week – Tech

      

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