To correct a commonplace error about Facebook

Not to pick upon one specific writer nor outlet here, but this is simply untrue:

Portal, which will go on sale next month in the US, is supposedly designed to make video chatting hands-free and immersive. A smart camera follows you around and ensures you stay in view while the system minimises background noise and enhances the voice of whoever is talking. “It’s like having your own cinematographer and sound crew direct your personal video calls,” Facebook says. It doesn’t mention the fact that said cinematographer has a history of flogging your personal information to all and sundry.

The selling data part that is. That’s not what Facebook - nor Google and so on - do at all. Certainly, they gain revenue from our attention. But that is a rather different matter:

Though Facebook doesn’t directly sell your information, it does “let businesses and organizations connect with the people who are most likely to be interested in their products and services,” as its ad education portal explained.

What they sell is advertising. That personal information not being sold to even sundry, let alone all. It being used instead to allow people to decide who to advertise to. Approaching any other media outlet - any one at all - will gain you a set of demographics of their customer base. So that you can decide whether you’d like to advertise to these people.

This is why Parturition Monthly will have piccies of babies and ads for nappies, why Mid Life Crisis Weekly articles about sports cars and ads for virility enhancers - where the two differ that is. Facebook et al are simply able to distinguish rather better among their users instead of delivering a total and undifferentiated bundle.

The importance of this is that it makes one set of demands out there ludicrous. That it’s our data, that the data is valuable and we should be paid for it.

At one level it’s already silly of course. Facebook makes perhaps - in revenue, not profit - $100 a year from a rich world user. 30 US cents a day. So, any system of paying us for that, well, how much is the accounting and distribution system for that sort of sum going to cost? As if any of us really care about that sort of sum anyway.

It’s also true that the data itself is valueless on its own. It’s the agglomeration of it, the slicing and dicing of it, which adds the value. That being exactly what Facebook is doing and it seems reasonable enough that the people adding the value get to keep it.

But now look again at the demand being made about that they pay us. What is sold is the ability to advertise to us. So, the demand is that we should be paid for being shown advertisements. And however tempting that is when shown yet another smiling, dry, baby or virility enhancer zooming along a mountain road we do all recognise that’s not quite how economic reality works out, don’t we?

In simpler terms the internet isn’t selling our data therefore there’s no money we can insist on having back from the sale of our data, is there?