Facebook Still Doesn’t Understand What Privacy Means

Facebook Still Doesn’t Understand What Privacy Means

Midway through his missive, Zuckerberg offers a defense of his internal emails regarding the idea of quite literally selling access to user data: “we decided on a model where we continued to provide the developer platform for free and developers could choose to buy ads if they wanted. So instead of every [sic] paying us directly, they’d just use our payments or ads products. Or if the revenue we get from those doesn’t add up to more that the fees you owe us, then you just pay us the fee directly.” To Zuckerberg, it seems that “selling” user data is narrowly defined as offering up ZIP files for download priced per user, where the “product” being “sold” is a boxed-up copy of the data of a given set of users. Nor, apparently, does Zuckerberg see the idea of charging directly for access to each individual user file to be a form of “selling” so long as the access being sold is to be used in providing said user a better experience with that Facebook-connected application. However, a more interesting aspect of Zuckerberg’s statement from earlier today was his comparison of Facebook’s developer platform to traditional commercial cloud computing services like Amazon AWS and Google Cloud. Developers choose those clouds based on their hardware and software environments, not access to data. Developers choose Facebook’s platform to gain access to Facebook’s data. To put it more directly, developers choose Facebook’s platform to gain access to the personal data of its two billion users which it holds in trust for them. Seen in this light, Zuckerberg appears to be rationalizing the idea of charging access for user data by seeing the transaction as renting hardware that just happens to come preloaded with two billion people’s data. Putting this all together, Zuckerberg’s rationalization earlier today of those 2012 discussions by envisioning Facebook as a cloud computing provider that just so happens to toss user data into the mix is at once a hopefully naïve rendering and simultaneously an Orwellian commodification of the most personal and intimate digital lives of its two billion users.

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In response to the release earlier today of the Six4Three collection of internal Facebook emails, Mark Zuckerberg issued a statement largely downplaying the significance of the emails that the company had fought so heavily to keep secret. His statement largely acknowledges Facebook’s focus on generating revenue and the fact that as a for-profit company it must be “economically sustainable.” One line in his statement, however, is striking for the way it juxtapositions Facebook’s perceived role in the online ecosystem compared with traditional commercial cloud vendors.

Midway through his missive, Zuckerberg offers a defense of his internal emails regarding the idea of quite literally selling access to user data: “we decided on a model where we continued to provide the developer platform for free and developers could choose to buy ads if they wanted. This model has worked well. Other ideas we considered but decided against included charging developers for usage of our platform, similar to how developers pay to use Amazon AWS or Google Cloud. To be clear, that’s different from selling people’s data. We’ve never sold anyone’s data.”

The actual email in question, dated October 7, 2012 and authored by Zuckerberg himself, offers that “I’ve been thinking about platform business model a lot this weekend … if we make it so [developers] can generate revenue for us in different ways, then it makes it more acceptable for us to charge them quite a bit more for using platform. The basic idea is that any other revenue you generate for us earns you a credit towards whatever fees you own us for using plaform [sic]. For most developers this would probably cover cost completely. So instead of every [sic] paying us directly, they’d just use our payments or ads products. A basic model could be: Login with Facebook is always free. Pushing content to Facebook is always free. Reading anything, including friends, costs a lot of money. Perhaps on the order of $0.10/user each year.” He goes on to clarify that “For the money that you owe, you can cover it in any of the following ways: Buys ads from us in neko or another system. Run our ads in your app or website (canvas apps already do this) Use our payments Sell your items in our Karma store. Or if the revenue we get from those doesn’t add up to more that the fees you owe us, then you just pay us the fee directly.”

To Zuckerberg, it seems that “selling” user data is narrowly defined as offering up ZIP files for download priced per user, where the “product” being “sold” is a boxed-up copy of the data of a given set of users. Instead, bartering access to user data by providing data in return for monetizable benefits, such as licensing of a trademark in return for extended access, is not “selling” in Zuckerberg’s mind. Neither is the idea of requiring a developer to purchase a certain amount of advertising in return for getting access to data in a sort of “subscription fee” model where payment is made for membership rather than per file. Nor, apparently, does Zuckerberg see the idea of charging directly for access to each individual user file to be a form of “selling” so long as the access being sold is to be used in providing said user a better experience with that Facebook-connected application.

Zuckerberg is right to a degree…

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