USA TODAY reported Sunday that Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak deactivated his Facebook account. “Woz” said “The profits are all based on the user’s info, but the users get none of the profits back.” I read this quote and I wondered where he had been. Certainly we’ve learned more details in recent weeks about how Facebook makes their money, but I didn’t think the general mechanism was hidden. Woz is much smarter than I could ever hope to be, so I found his sudden realization a bit confusing.
Now Woz is hardly the first person to deactivate his account. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, “#DeleteFacebook” is a popular topic. But despite the popularity of the topic, users don’t seem to be following through. I still use Facebook, although I’m spending less time on the site. My engagement has been trending downward for a while, and I can’t say that Cambridge Analytica had much of an effect one way or another.
It’s been said a bazillion times before, but it bears repeating: if you’re not paying for the service, you’re the product. I don’t view that as a value judgment, though. I’m willing to trade data for free services that are valuable to me. The question is: does the data I give up equal or exceed the value I get from the product? If it does, I keep using it.
Facebook is a good tool for passively keeping up with people I like. It’s algorithms ensure that I can’t use it to actively keep up on my friends, but it’s better than nothing. I was talking to my friend’s mother over the weekend and she decided to attend her 50th high school reunion because of the reconnections she made with Facebook. Meanwhile, I haven’t bothered with any high school reunions in part because Facebook allows me to keep in touch.
As with any economic exchange, each person needs to weigh what they give and what they get. Facebook can stand to be more transparent about what happens with user data (though that’s not even the issue they need to be most transparent about). But just because the users aren’t getting the profits, that doesn’t mean they’re not getting value.