a more ‘open’ world

Analyse critically the following statement by Mark Zuckerberg while comparing it to privacy issues raised by online social networking collaborative practices:


A ‘more open world’ is something that Mark Zuckerberg has been pursuing for a long time. On Zuckerberg’s personal Facebook page, his ‘about me’ section spells this out:

I’m trying to make the world a more open place by helping people connect and share.

But this is to be expected.

In my brief essay for this subject, I examined the exchanges that occur in all business transactions.

Facebook, like all businesses engages in an exchange of goods to generate revenue ($1.86b from advertising alone in 2010). But what is interesting about Facebook, and almost exclusive to companies that engage with users on the internet, is that they are trading something that they acquired for free.

Consider the job of a blacksmith. A blacksmith’s tasks could range from forging a sword, to smelting some ore, or crafting a shield. A blacksmith has a set of expertise that allows him to perform a ‘crafting’ task. But the blacksmith cannot just conjure swords and shields out of thin air, he must acquire the ore from a miner, or some timber from a lumberjack. To acquire this ore – this base material for the more sophisticated objects he wishes to create – he must exchange something in return for the ore (gold coins, for example). Once he has this ore, he can make a sword, and hopefully sell it (or exchange it) for more money than he bought the ore from the miner. This is an example of a rudimentary business.

Facebook is the same.

Facebook performs the role of a ‘middle man’, in a way.

Facebook has created a digital locale that attracts users. Facebook do not charge its users for this service. Instead, they ask you to exchange something with them:

‘Tell us a bit about yourself!’

But Facebook is still a business, correct? So where do their profits come from? The exchange of goods with their network of advertisers desperate to tap into a market of 600 million users. Hence, we do not use Facebook for free.

We are charged when we use Facebook. We offer up our (valuable) personal information to Facebook for free, and Facebook in turn ‘sells’ that information to advertisers – a process that created $1.86 billion in advertising revenue in 2010.

But how does Facebook’s role in the social media industry affect issues such as privacy?

Because in the ‘more open world’ that Zuckerberg envisages, there is more information exposed to Facebook and for Facebook to use in their business model of exchanging users information with the lucrative advertising industry.

Facebook has been criticised for it’s complex Terms of Service (that wall-o’-text that you scrolled passed and clicked ‘agree’). Using legalese jargon, Facebook attempts (quite successfully, I would suggest) to dissuade people from reading the document that spells out what a user surrendered when they sign up for a Facebook account.

The internet is a fantastic medium. It’s changed human society as we know it, and for many people of my generation, it has defined our social engagement.

Going online and talking with our friends on the other side of the world is a great thing to do – I know that without Facebook, I wouldn’t have maintained the connections I forged with friends I met in India – but we need to remind ourselves that Facebook is a business. And business is booming.

We need to consider that all businesses engage in the exchange of something – whether it’s as tangible as some iron ore, or as intangible as ‘personal information’, the exchange of ‘goods’ occurs in every business, and Facebook is by no means an exception.

My cynical great aunt used to always say “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”.

She never used Facebook, but her pessimistic adage hasn’t lost its relevance.

Facebook is not a free service. We do pay for it.

Be aware of the exchange that you make each and every time you log in to Facebook.





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2 responses to “a more ‘open’ world

  1. allanalderson

    Nice one Nick–interesting argument. I guess one way to foil the Facebook targetted marketing team is to simply not fill out the profile details when you sign up (i.e. don’t tell them your age, favourite colour, music preferences etc etc). No doubt this will slow them, rather than stop their targetting altogether. I suspect they also look for key points of interest in your discussion topics on your wall. But I guess if you deem advertising and marketing as ‘acceptable’ in the modern world, then that begs the question as to the moral argument against Facebook-style targetted marketing? If the companies doing the advertising promote a product to you that they know you’ll have an interest in, then this is a win-win for all three parties (you, Brand X and Facebook). Brand X spend less on its marketing (it may even reduce their unit price as a result), you find out about something that you might need more quickly, and Facebook has a sustainable (‘hugely profitable’, more likely!) business. Lastly, I’m somewhat skeptical as to whether social networking really is “an essential” in a socially-engaged lifestyle. I am meeting more and more people (I hasten to say, not I) who are Facebook non-participants by choice, and still enjoy a full a rich social life. Oddly, lots in their late teens/early 20s. I think the whole “Facebook is essential” argument might be a bit of a myth put around by vested interests–social networking is nice complement to the whole gammut of human interaction, but its not an essential.

  2. Pingback: user agency on the web | expatiate

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