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The Price of Free Is Actually Too High (feld.com)
353 points by anacleto 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 197 comments

Nearly every first level reply on this post are in response to the title only (price of free is too high).

But if you read the actual article, that was only the intro/lead-in. The main point of the article is near the end:

> I think something more profound is going on here. We are getting a first taste of how difficult it is for a world in which humans and computers are intrinsically linked. Tristian’s punch line “The problem with Facebook is Facebook” hints at this. Is the problem the leadership of Facebook, the people of Facebook, the users of Facebook, the software of Facebook, the algorithms of Facebook, what people do with the data from Facebook, or something else. Just try to pull those apart and make sense of it.

> ... the big transitions are hard to see when you are in them but easy to see with the benefit of decades of hindsight. This might be that moment of transition, where there is no going back to what was before.

Brad is bringing up a question here. He's not making a claim about anything. Our world is being changed. We don't know how things are going to turn out yet.

My feeling is the problem with the link between humans and computers is that the people funding things like Facebook and other high-profit digital services are applying an economic model which may have worked in an age before computers, but is completely absurd when it meets computers. Let's think of Facebook for a second as a "public meeting space", like a dog park. How many dog parks do you know valued at hundreds of billions of dollars?

You could run a social media platform instead as a service for users funded by donations, in the vein of Wikipedia. This way you don't need to convince most people to pay. You only need a small passionate few who keep the service going for everyone else. I think the business model would generally incentivize much more user-friendly operational decisions than an ad-sponsored approach does. And since this is a digital service, the operational cost can be scaled proportionally to the donations received.

The Guardian have switched to this model and it seems to at least be showing the promise of working. I live in London and subscribe to the paper at the weekends, primarily because the physical thing is a good product and a nice thing to read at weekends - particularly the review and longform arts stuff - but also as a way to support an organisation I think is doing valuable work.

> The Guardian have switched to this model and it seems to at least be showing the promise of working.

Not exactly. While it is possible to become a Guardian 'supporter', and contribute financially in exchange for ad-free browsing after you identify yourself by logging in, you are not free from tracking by third-party ad companies as you browse their site.

The parent comment you are responding to said "I think the business model would generally incentivize much more user-friendly operational decisions than an ad-sponsored approach does." and while this gives you a superficially cleaner browsing experience, ad companies continue to track you as you browse the Guardian's website, harvesting data which can be used to manipulate you elsewhere on the web.

The Guardian could choose to disable all third-party trackers for logged-in paying supporters, but they do not. For privacy conscious readers, the only way to achieve what you want is to install an ad-blocker and a browser extension such as Privacy Badger. Contributing to the paper provides little or no privacy benefit, though it's always a good idea to support quality journalism, so if you do it, do it for that reason alone.

For those that are digital subscribers and wish to suggest exactly this turning off of 3rd party tracking for logged-in users, this looks like the most relevant email address: membershipsupport@theguardian.com

Be sure to include your subscriber/membership number in that email, which you can find in your profile https://profile.theguardian.com/

Hmm, I might be missing something here. To me it appears as there's nothing really novel about getting the weekend newspapers delivered to your house on a subscription basis. One arranges delivery and subscription with the local newsagent and a paperboy delivers it. (The terms we still use even encode that model: newsagent paperboy)

Perhaps it's a return to tried and tested model rather than a switch to a new one?

Some sort of enhancement for paying would probably help as well. IIRC Livejournal used to offer custom homepage themes, extra user avatars etc. for anyone who paid for the service. Yet, the basic functionality was available for anyone.

How much do you think a company would have been valued that let you create a meeting space for people with very little work, communicate it almost instantaneously to everyone you wanted invited, and to have the meeting space focused on any subject you liked - not just dog parks.

I believe Facebook is overvalued, but comparison to the value of a dog park is not exactly fair either.

You make a fair point. Facebook does provide a lot more functionality for users than the comparison gives them credit for.

What I was trying to convey was that a social network doesn't necessarily need to move the mountains of money that Facebook does. Diaspora* is an example of a free open source social network platform. Of course it still cost people a lot of time and money to build and host it, but nowhere near Facebook levels.

I also think the business model of running specifically a social network as a profitable business is likely to lead to "perverse incentives". Making a profit isn't necessarily opposed to helping people connect (e.g. OKCupid's business model of being free to all but selling advantages to power users), but it takes both the willingness to align your business model with your users' interests and the fortitude to stick to that approach even though other approaches could be more profitable.

> I believe Facebook is overvalued, but comparison to the value of a dog park is not exactly fair either.

One is a great place do be if it wasn't for all piles of steaming crap left around by irresponsible users.

The other is somewhere to exercise your dog

Given the general state of the "content" people put on Facebook, I'd say the dog park comparison is a good one.. but not quite in the way the parent post meant it.

Replace 'a dog park' with 'most dog parks' and valuation starts to make a little more sense.

I think in that analogy you're looking at something like Diaspora*: distributed and independently-managed public meeting places. Which is monetarily valued much lower because it's designed to be a social tool for users, not to be a money machine. But the value it can theoretically provide to users in connecting them with other people is similar.

He basically identifies 3 free related issues coming to a nexus with FB. First is that free and monopoly (in the Pete Thiel sense) are related. A lot of the FB problems are problems of concentrated scale.

Second is the advertising business model. There as side effects to this three-way market. In any casefb as business works because they are such a monopoly.

Third is political influence, which I think is at the centre of FB's current heat, not data security. People become presidents on FB, revolutions happen on FB. This gives extra importance to the first two.

FB had been in denial about the politics issue, I suspect they still don't fully grasp it. They're not a neutral platform. They actually built in certain biases via their "optimization" for "engagement". In any case, since people like to argue politics on FB, it's a great advertiaing platform for politics.

I think they will not like the answer to the last problem. Its either an editorial approach, recognizing their position as a publication or trying to get rid of politics.

>FB had been in denial about the politics issue, I suspect they still don't fully grasp it. They're not a neutral platform.

They grasp it. They've been running research studies on elections[1], politics, and "emotional contagions"[2] since at least 2010.



> Our world is being changed.

What do we use the internet for? Communication, media, business, government. Most of these work on the internet exactly how they work in the non-Internet world. The only difference is the setting.

Media? We get it for free or for a small payment, both on the net, and IRL. Commerce? We still pay for things with our credit cards, the product catalogs and stores are just digital now. Public services? I apply for a change of address online and not at the DMV's satellite office. Chatting? Group text rather than party lines.

Now, social media certainly has changed people's bubbles. They're now tighter and larger, and reinforce biases and create false information to a much greater degree. But it's not like this wasn't already happening with FOX News, and before that with newspapers and journals dedicated to fringe groups.

I think the biggest problem we face is the world becoming more convenient and insular. Rather than have to pay for a local worker to produce some good for me, it gets churned through a global trade network to squeeze its price down to pennies and exploit the people and environment of the world to do so. And I would never know it unless someone went to great lengths to tell me so. Rather than read a newspaper, we look for what drivel has been retweeted by our friends. It's just "easy" to consume harmful products and information.

So what do you do when convenience is a problem? Give up convenience?

The world is changed by people. I'm not sure the current rage against Facebook is being organically sustained. What I mean there is that there is currently a [completely justified] media frenzy against Facebook, but what will happen when the media moves onto the next click-worthy topic? I'm guessing this will be as forgotten as Equifax.

In order for the world to change people need to be genuinely, independently, and individually upset at the behavior here. Here, I think this [1] Onion article is a good example of when satire meets reality: "American People Admit Having Facebook Data Stolen Kind Of Worth It To Watch That Little Fucker Squirm". Factor in the political aspect, and I do think that probably sums up the situation pretty well. By the political aspect, I mean to say that I think a lot of the outrage is also geared again not around the behavior itself, but who that behavior may have benefited.

The issue is that if people are not upset at the behavior itself and in a vacuum, then nothing will change. And I really don't think they are. Facebook was revealed to be literally conducting psychological experiments on users without their consent, making their feed more negative or more positive just to see what would happen, and when the next shiny news bit came along - nobody cared anymore.

That all said, I completely and absolutely hope I'm wrong. But I do not think I am.

[1] - https://www.theonion.com/american-people-admit-having-facebo...

Brad seems to be invoking Paulo Freire. Whether he is conscious of Freire’s work or not

The themes of yesterday conflict with the themes of tomorrow as society exists in a period of transition

Freire referred to it as an epoch where new themes have the chance to take over

My guess is we’ll end up in the same spot: rich elites pushing their theme of “insure my wealth and power” while the majority do the actual work

I find whenever I consider the alternative to free, I need to examine deep within myself to ask if I’d be willing to pay for the half a dozen services or so that I use every day for free, subsidized currently by an advertising model. Although the idea would be great if companies existed solely to serve people like myself for free, it isn’t realistic. Weighing the cost of free vs the potential loss of privacy at some point in the future, I can’t help but choose free today and kick the proverbial privacy can down the road. Thus, I’m a bit hesitant to go find my pitch fork in this fight for privacy.

This is an honest answer that I think many people who are outraged about privacy and advertising would begrudgingly have to admit if forced to really answer. The only way to know whether the price of something is too high or not is to put up two options. A free version where privacy is lost, and a paid version where it's not. See how many people opt for the paid version. Now unfortunately many services that go the advertising route do not offer a paid version. I happen to be in the camp that does pay for several services I use online, and I run a service that charges customers too. Where I can I like to pay and be free of advertising.

Here's the thing though, would we ever get privacy? Even if we were to pay?

I know that there are several defendants [drugs etc] even in my small area who have had deleted snapchat posts, deleted texts, deleted emails, "anonymous" forum posts etc etc etc show up as evidence in court. Now I'm obviously unfamiliar with the legal and technical means by which police investigators made things like that happen, but the fact that they happen means that we can assume that at LEAST the government has access to a record of most everything we do online. Free or otherwise.

Even ignoring the question of the government surveillance net, once your data is on that company's server, how would you even be able to reliably validate what's being done with it? By which I mean, they say they don't share it, but how do you KNOW?

So maybe we would get some pretty compelling new features in a lot of our services if we were to pay for them, but I'm not at all certain that ironclad privacy would be one of them.

In fact, I'm fair certain that it wouldn't be.

I don't think paid-for services are going to solve anything. We pay up and out the ass for television, which obviously has ads, but I'm sure they're tracking as much as possible too.

Unless you've been extremely diligent, there's no way you're going to escape a targeted invasion of privacy when someone, or some group, government or not, wants it bad enough. Trying to stop that would be exhausting and futile.

Right now, we're allowing highly coordinated, highly detailed, nearly invisible, for-profit, stalking to take place legally. There's no doubt that's bad for society. We have anti-stalking laws for good reason. It's worth doing something about the current state of things, even if it doesn't bring the tracking down to nothing. The free market and tech has failed to fix it so far. They don't have forever to keep trying. Laws are the next line of defense. Laws might not stop criminals from crimin' but I'm sure the Tim Cooks of the world aren't going to risk their company profits (or personal freedoms, if the laws are strict enough) to get a little extra info on everyone.

What if there were paid services that promised no ads? Ever? Make it part of their policy?

Originally, this was the promise of cable television. Eventually they figured out they could charge you and deliver ads.

Naive: instead of serving ads directly, the service would just eagerly sell your data to someone else for possibly worse purposes than ads (e.g. denying you health insurance, mortgages, a job, etc.)

Why? Why wouldn't the income from subscriptions be enough?

There is no such thing as "enough" when corporations seek perpetual growth.

Exactly. I'm doing this with the company I've been building [0] and it works. While it's taken a while being completely bootstrapped, we make enough money to grow and focus on our users. No one is obligated to track and stalk everyone online; that's just the prevailing business model (unfortunately).

[0] https://write.as/principles

Yes, and when you cash out to enjoy life in the tropics, whoever you sell to will then use any and all information you may have as they see fit, and load up your service with the usual. I won't even blame you for it, this is just how things work. I believe the sincerity of your statement of principles, just as I believe that Sergei and Larry were sincere when they told Google "Don't Be Evil". Everything ultimately has a price, even your principles, and even if it is very high, there is someone out there that will meet it if they can make a profit on it. The guys like Richard Stallman that are religiously committed to their beliefs is vanishingly small, and the odds that a founder such as yourself is one of those people is correspondingly low.

That doesn't mean I wouldn't use your service (which looks cool). It just means that I would have a plan in place for what I'll do when you sell out ;)

Haha well they certainly don't make the covers of magazines very often, but I don't know that they're as rare as you think. The people behind Basecamp, Balsamiq, and tons of other smaller companies are able to build "old-fashioned" businesses that stick to their principles and only answer to their customers. You need a little fortitude on the founder's part of course, but also the right financial incentives -- a key aspect the GP post missed.

As for Write.as, I spend copious time talking about why I built it [0] and making sure people know me personally, to address your exact point. Personally, I'm a simple dude who relishes putting more value on principles than a number in a bank account. And I'd rather have a tent in the woods than Mai Thais on the beach.

But we do have an open API [1] and one-click export to get your data out, so you can be sure :)

[0] https://write.as/matt/who-is-this

[1] https://developers.write.as/docs/api/

Couldn't agree more though I got downvoted for saying more or less the same thing earlier today (still don't understand that but, um, internet).

I'm not going to dig up your earlier post, but discussing up- and down votes like you're doing here is an anti pattern on HN. I think that if you look objectively at your comment, you'll find that it doesn't contribute anything to the discussion, and has the potential to distract from it. Most likely that's why you've been down voted here.


I suggest you should chill a bit. I didn't see your previous post, but I guess this one has been downvoted because it's not saying anything of consequence regarding the OP and it's not adding anything to the conversation.

I'm sort of sick of this environment. HN used to be cool, for me, not so much lately. If you are having a good time, go you, I really wish HN the best, it's one of the better places on the internet, but I'm very close to just being done. And I'm not looking for people to convince me that it is fine, it's a personal thing, the value/cost ratio just is shitty for me and that's probably my history. I'm just tired of the trolls, I could go hug my dogs or deal with the trolls, which one do you think I love?

"Bad money pushes out good money." Since you can't prove privacy, customers have to assume no-privacy and vendors must exploit that or else get outcompeted by someone who does. Same for any quality that customers want but can't verify, such as quickly long-life or organic ingredients or treatment of workers and animals.

I wonder if it's possible for a watchdog organization to automate trap street accounts.

It's possible that the prosecutors in a local drug case got Snapchat data by subpoena, but much more likely is that it was given to them by an informant. Here's the real thing. Anything you do online is not private. If you want to keep something private, don't do it online.

Well, if you pay for a service that promises certain privacy protections, then they are legally obligated to fulfill those promises. That’s one mechanism, although obviously you still need watchdogs and a solid legal and court system to protect the promises.

> Here's the thing though, would we ever get privacy? Even if we were to pay?

The issue is that the services have to be funded somehow. If they're funded through data mining, you lose your privacy. So if you want privacy, some other funding source is necessary but not sufficient.

> once your data is on that company's server, how would you even be able to reliably validate what's being done with it?

The answer is for it not to be on their server at all. Have it be on your server. Operating a server should be as simple as operating any other home appliance.

> The issue is that the services have to be funded somehow. If they're funded through data mining, you lose your privacy. So if you want privacy, some other funding source is necessary but not sufficient.

That, and there has to be a legal or technical way to prevent them from datamining you anyway. Because seriously, almost no company is going to voluntarily leave money on the table. Why drop old profit source for the new one, when you can have both?

> The answer is for it not to be on their server at all. Have it be on your server. Operating a server should be as simple as operating any other home appliance.

That's an important part of the solution, I believe. Personally, what I'd love to see is the move towards making service providers stop trying to own data. The way SaaS currently works is: I send my data to the service for processing, they basically own it, and I'm lucky if I can even get the data back out and untangled from the service. The way this should be working is that I own and control the data, and I rent their code to be run on it.

Come to think of it, that's how desktop software works, and that's why the abstraction of a file - the one the cloud is desperately trying to kill - is so awesome.

>The answer is for it not to be on their server at all. Have it be on your server. Operating a server should be as simple as operating any other home appliance.

But... operating non-computerized home appliances is difficult, too. Remember all the jokes about the VCR blinking 12:00? This was because every damn thing had it's own completely non-standard, unique interface.

I mean, we've got fewer and fewer clocks we've gotta set, but back in the day, I remember I was the sort of person who would have to jimmy with a friend's car until their in-dash clock was right... and almost nobody I knew had a clock that was right year round, just 'cause they couldn't be bothered to look up or figure out how to set it.

Now, with connected appliances? (as any of your 'social network' appliances would have to be) if you didn't apply the security updates (and maybe if you did) the data would be even more public than it is now.

> But... operating non-computerized home appliances is difficult, too. Remember all the jokes about the VCR blinking 12:00? This was because every damn thing had it's own completely non-standard, unique interface.

Not really. It was because the device is a VCR (or a car) that happens to contain a clock and people didn't care enough about the clock feature to bother with setting it. Even the people whose clocks weren't set could still play a video tape or drive to work.

What it points to is the need for good defaults. The default shouldn't be to blink 12:00, nobody actually wants that. It should be to get the time from a GPS receiver or NTP server or something like that. It's a problem caused by no external connectivity, which is no longer an issue today.

> Now, with connected appliances? (as any of your 'social network' appliances would have to be) if you didn't apply the security updates (and maybe if you did) the data would be even more public than it is now.

Security is an issue but it's a separate issue. Huge organizations get pwned all the time. Yahoo, Target, Equifax, OPM, it's a very long list. If the thing holding your data gets hacked, you lose. That doesn't really depend on if it's in your home or not.

>Security is an issue but it's a separate issue. Huge organizations get pwned all the time. Yahoo, Target, Equifax, OPM, it's a very long list. If the thing holding your data gets hacked, you lose. That doesn't really depend on if it's in your home or not.

For your thing to not get hacked, someone needs go proactively defend that thing, even if defending that thing just means 'install the dang updates' (of course, there's more to it than that, but for most of us, if installing the updates isn't enough, we are compromised and deal with the consequences)

I'm comparing leaving the clock blinking 12:00 to the phone that hasn't been updated in two years. If your data is on devices you control... you need to control the security of said devices, and that's easier said than done.

My point here is that not paying attention to the security of your home appliances has very different and sometimes not obvious consequences to not paying attention to other aspects of home appliance setup.

It works through preservation orders, which LE can issue to companies and mandate they preserve records of something.

Websites were "free" from the start when people were hosting them on their own machines. At this point we have the internet access and cheap hardware that would allow us to take control and build distributed solutions that are "free" in the sense that they only cost our contribution of hosting power or something.

Look at the Tor network, for example, the next time you assume that nobody would run a service for free without collecting data or ads.

EDIT: I used Tor as an example because of the contrast with data collection companies like Facebook but there are a lot of people who run Tor relays for free that push quite a bit of traffic around. Things like IPFS, blockchains, Mastodon Project, SETI@Home, etc, are examples of free approaches given our modern hardware proliferation.

> Look at the Tor network, for example, the next time you assume that nobody would run a service for free without collecting data or ads.

Oh an exit node certainly has the capability to collect data. Have enough of them and you can de-anonymize an user.

But not everyone is running exit nodes. And even if they are they get random requests that can't easily be correlated to a source.

My point is that most people run those services for free without the expectation of collecting personal data.

But I think the expectation of free internet services sort of originates in that kind of attitude. Because originally the internet was a bunch of hackers using their spare bandwidth and their spare cpu cycles to host web sites. Perhaps they enjoyed it enough to volunteer the extra cash for dedicated servers and dedicated internet connections.

It's only after that in the second step that people try to monetise. Nowadays of course it's money from the getgo, but things have changed.

There's still plenty of free today. Lots of people run websites with highly interesting information and then distributed it without benefiting from the ads that run on the site (e.g. a Wordpress blog, where the privacy invasion and ad revenue profits go to Wordpress not the blogger).

There are also still plenty of ways to host content that is free to a reasonable point of usage.

See Firebase Hosting [a sister team of mine]: 1GB hosting and 10GB xfer monthly without even dropping a credit card.

Right, you can't just take a free-to-the-user (paid by advertising) product, slap a fee on it, and expect people to pay for it. Instead products need to be user-centric from the start, with business models that align users and the company making the products. It's just rare to see companies thinking critically about this.

Once they've said "let's monetize our free users" they've already lost. What people miss is that free users are incredibly valuable with a digital product -- whether it's seeing how real people use it or the free marketing they give you. Sure, a freemium product will generally have >95% of its users not paying a cent. That doesn't mean you need to sell of their data to generate value from them.

And as a consumer "outraged about privacy and advertising," frankly we're faced with many products that are overpriced for the value they deliver. More companies need to find the middle ground between surveillance business models and gouging consumers.

How would you know if the paid version is privacy respecting or not? If for example FB had a 5$/mo subscription that was ad free, how would you know that access to your database wasn't still being sold?

For me that kind of problem is the blocker, and "oh look nobody paid for for the premium version, therefore people don't value privacy" is a bit disingenuous.

If you are buying a product/service and it says it won't do something (like sell your data) and does anyway, that's clearly wrong. They agreed to protect your privacy. With services that state they will use your data to run targeted ads you are immediately accepting the loss of privacy.

Being ad free is not the same as not tracking though. They are just saying, you get the version with no ads.

"clearly wrong" means nothing if you can't win a law suit against megacorp's carefully worded legalese. "We use this information to improve the Service" means game over.

I don't think that will hold up against GDPR.

It won't, but despite the complaints that the GDPR reaches too far, it still only protects a minority of worldwide users.

What if there were a trusted third-party that periodically audited the business to see if they were protecting your privacy of not. Would people value or trust that? And who would people trust to do the audit?

And the problem too is that even paid products like my NYT subscriptions have ads. If the point is privacy, I don't have an option to buy it.

The newspapers and magazines have had advertisements for at least the last two centuries to help subsidize the cost of the subscription. If you had to pay full price for a subscription, you probably wouldn't have it because the publisher couldn't afford it.

And likely even if you paid for a subscription to a magazine, your name and address was sold to marketers to sell you direct mail. And this ended up in someone's database, who resold it to advertisers time and time again.

Cook's Illustrated is an example of a magazine that doesn't sell ads. But the cost per issue is higher and the number of pages is lower. Also most of the magazine is usually printed in black and white to save publishing costs.

The question I ask myself constantly, is do I want to end up being advertised to (Google, Facebook), or do I want to end up being part of someone's brand (Apple, Nike)?

One model, in the UK at least, is to use an agent for purchasing of subscription publications.

This newsagent delivered the papers and magazines to your door before you left for work in the morning, didn't send your data to organisations and allowed flexible purchasing options (monthly, weekly, etc). Many people still use news agents for their subscription delivery mechanisms.

Perhaps we can see an online agent, where we pay a trusted third party that negotiates transactions on all our online activites on our behalf, and protects our privacy, location, when else we buy, etc. That digital agent would collect a small (1% of transaction cost) as fee, to continue it's operations.

> The only way to know whether the price of something is too high or not is to put up two options. A free version where privacy is lost, and a paid version where it's not.

This test doesn't seem to work in practice due to, I imagine, human psychology. When looking at a free vs not free service, most people are just comparing the cost of the service. The implied privacy costs are too diffuse and complex for the brain to properly comprehend them at that moment.

The individual-based solution is to develop a feeling of ickiness towards such services, but I'm not sure how that could be implemented on a mass scale.

Subscription services are such a pain, because so many companies do their best to trick you with deceptive pricing models and service agreements.

I often don't want to haul out the credit card because it takes so much energy to evaluate a service.

I deliberately chose to buy ADSL service from the only company I found that instead of billing automatically and renewing the contract implicitly requires a fax with proof of advance payment and eagerly disconnects me if I'm late.

I pay for a VPN, Cloud Storage, VPS hosting, and Encrypted Email; I'd probably pay for Maps if Open Street Map weren't sufficient.

The total comes to just over $300/yr. That's... really not that much, is it?

> The total comes to just over $300/yr. That's... really not that much, is it?

I'd imagine for minimum mage workers, that's obscene.

50 USD/month for a bundled infotainment package (cable+internet) comes to 600 USD/yr. I think most urban Americans are going to spend at least that much.

I'm concerned about this wording. Internet is very important to pretty much everyone in the modern developed world. Cable is often bundled into internet whether you want it or not - when people can get rid of cable for a cheaper plan, they often do. "Infotainment" sounds like a disparaging term here, it's inappropriate.

The internet is effectively a need, on the level of electricity, so it's closer to being an assumed cost. Nonetheless, some people probably can't afford it, and for those that do but struggle financially, adding more on top of it doesn't at all help. The idea that these people should be concerned about a diffuse danger of privacy violations compared to the very real danger of not being able to afford important things is completely preposterous.

Stop passing the cost to the consumer. Companies that abuse privacy should be regulated. If you're expecting this task to be done by people of low socioeconomic status, whom your own system has deemed as people deserving of less power, you're looking at the whole thing completely backwards.

well great you just added $300 to that which was previously $0

I agree, but this is HN; isn't it safe to assume a certain income among most commentators?

I'm quite poor and was homeless until a few months ago. I am quite open about that and I get told bluntly to stop talking about myself here at times. I have seen evidence that suggests other poor people here are reluctant to stick their neck out as much as I do. So the number of poor people here is probably more than it seems.

Most people don't "stick their neck out" as much as you do. I'm a casual browser and I feel like I've seen you discussing your life situation enough to the point where I know your circumstances better than that of some people I consider friends.

That's a shame; but perhaps I can understand why? The get-rich-quick, or how-I-got-rich stories that bubble up to the top nigh daily are intimidating as hell, as is the discussion similar to such that abounds around here.

I'm not a fan, and I apologize for contributing to it. I'll try to be more thoughtful in the future.

Thank you.

I suspect most poor people hide it in part because the stigma can impede their ability to escape poverty. Classism is alive and well.

Ideally, I would like to see a culture where "rich" people help poor people figure out how to solve their problems. That's all I have ever asked and it doesn't really get taken seriously. I get a lot of flak about just being a charity case, not worth real money, and that I should get a real job instead of trying to figure out how to make money online. Meanwhile, almost everyone else on HN is trying to figure out how to make money online in some sense.

It's good to have you here! HN benefits from the perspective that you bring.

Plenty of other people must value your comments too, because you've accumulated a karma of over 5000 points in about 4 months - say 15,000 points a year, which is definitely a lot - cf HN leaders. [0]

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/leaders

Just to add to this, DoreenMichele herself was on the leaderboard with her previous handle and would certainly still be there if she hadn't moved to her current one, so clearly folks here appreciate the perspective she brings to conversations!

I currently live on SSDI due to unfortunate medical problems that made driving impossible. Three doctors independently looked at a particular lab result and said, "How are you still alive?". (Previously I had a decent engineering salary writing embedded firmware)

SSDI pays very close to the federal poverty level. Even with the benefit of receiving Medicare, the monthly cost of very-necessary medication plus very frugal living expenses usually leaves me with up to ~$(40 +/- 40) each month in "discretionary spending" that I can use to buy anything beyond rent/medication/food. (e.g. clothes, household cleaning/repair/etc, very rarely travel expenses)

I'm lucky that my interest has always involved computers, which I can use for free for many different purposes. Well, as long as nothing happens to my old desktop (Core 2 Quad Q9650, nForce 790i, RAID-1 of ancient SATA disks). An extra $300/yr would would mean buying new boots and some new shirts. Paying that would mean dropping on of my medications (maybe fatal in the short term, defiantly fatal within a year or two), or skipping a few months of food.

For the record, I'm fine living frugally. I simply suggest that it's important to avoid falling victim to a filter bubble or survivor bias[1], because there are a lot of people - even engineers in Silicon Valley - that have an even worse[2] situation that mine.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Qd3erAPI9w

[2] I'm fortunate to have the privilege of being male and white. My friends without those privileges have only recently been able to start leaning math/software/etc. They are hackers at heart, but a math/CS/engineering education and SV startup opportunities were not available to black women in the 80s/90s.

[Note: This comment is not related to the current discussion thread]

hi pdkl95,

I'm somewhat new to HN, so sorry if this is bad form, but I couldn't find a way to send a private message.

I've been doing a lot of research on systemd because a lot of the developer practices behind it frankly scare the shit out of me.

I thought you had some excellent comments (these were threads from like 2015/2016) - is there anywhere we could discuss the current state of systemd if you're okay with that? Basically I want to see if any of your opinions have changed, or if systemd still seems like a giant ugly tightly-coupled octopus that attempts to subsume too many features.

tl;dr: I've been playing around with arch linux and I've been loving it, but something about systemd rubs me the wrong way and it feels like an obvious target for security compromise if I were the NSA or [insert evil org] since systemd is present on so many linux distros

Is it not possible to work without driving ?

That's not the only problem, unfortunately. The results that prompted that comment from 3 different doctors was the results from two sleep studies at different locations that indicated an AHI[1] of 152 an 148. Hypoxia and no stage 3/4/REM sleep for >10 years does bad things too your heart, endocrine system, memory (and other conative functions), etc.

(Don't sit at desk ~100% of the time for multiple decades, and get minor problems checked out before they accumulate damage and become major problems)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apnea%E2%80%93hypopnea_index ( >30 is usually "severe" apnea. 150 is "how did you survive the severe drops in blood O2 every night?!". The hospital delivered emergency O2 to my house within hours of reading the results of that sleep study)

Are you overweight ?

I know of at least two homeless HN commentors, and more than that who are unemployed.

Not really.

A couple of years back I was so poor I was sleeping on my brother's couch.

Not to mention that there are people on HN who are from developing countries, where even relatively well paid jobs don't pay a lot by Western standards.

Four person home, annual shared income is ~20k in the rural Midwest. Not exactly rich, but semi-affordable given they have a house already.

The line gets a bit blurry when you consider that there are a few high school-aged people on HN who can't legally get a full time job.

I live in a country where $300 is the average monthly wage.

Is paying 1/12th of your total annual income just to get 4 services worth it?

That would be, what?, like you paying $10,000 a year for those services?

I think if you divide the money brought in via web advertising across all users of the web it comes out to like $150/month/user.

Would you pay $150/month to not have ads ever again? I definitely would but considering how much people complain about $3/month for no-ad hulu...

I might want it now, but if that was the condition when I was a kid, I'd probably not be computer-proficient right now. In my childhood, unless you came from a rich and computer-interested family, everything you used was a combination of free software and pirated software.

I'm all for getting rid of all advertising in any (humanitarian) way possible, but that's the one thing that still bugs me - how to ensure kids with no disposable income will be able to work with the software used by pros?

If advertisers are spending $150/month on users they are probably earning at least $50/month from users. But it's not distributed evenly - a lot is probably for big ticket items.

My point is, people are paying it anyway.

$300 is around ₹20k. Certainly not much for me. But if I have a choice between free and ₹20k I'll almost always choose free.

subsidized currently by an advertising model

It's only an ad model at the moment because we're only just getting started with ways to utilise massive amounts of data. Give it time and, unless we're vigilant and guard against it, it'll be an insurance model, a career model, a justice model, etc. Anything you can imagine turning big data to will become a business model if we let it.

Ads are an incredibly tame use of the data corporations have access to. It could be much, much worse. That's why we need to work out an alternative now.

How can it be possible for the "buyer" to assess the cost of something if it was never offered for a price other than 0.00

Can the "alternative to free" be "considered" if that which is "free" has never before been offered for a price greater than zero

Can the "alternative to free" be "considered" when there is no such alternative (e.g. because alternatives have been acquired or blocked by a monopolist)

What if companies exist to serve advertisers and other customers and are not actually "serving" users

What if it was shown that many users do not actually require storage of data in data centers

What if the needs of users and the needs of data collectors are truly not aligned

What if users' "choices" are nonexistant or illusory

What if you could pick a bundle? A $1/mo, $10/mo, $100/mo bundle? You get whatever those bundles allow for whatever time window is set. Not the same as free and choice-wise is restrictive (but then the tyranny of choice).

While not "the" answer, it could be an option so that you're not paying for each and every content driven website independently.

Of course, the downside is this harkens to the time when we had limited sources of information (newspaper sub, broadcast TV, cable TV and radio).

If micropayments is not working (yet?) and advertising is proving too invasive but we're also not willing to pay underutilized individual subscriptions, what else is there?

If we're going to talk about a hypothetical internet where Google and Facebook have no ability to siphon all our data, we might as well propose IPv6 for everyone and NAT for no one. Then we could have high quality peer to peer services for things like instant messaging and email and social networking. We'd have the best of both worlds.

Oh, and ISPs would be regulated as utilities so their services would be dumb pipes with high bandwidth, low latency, and no caps or throttling of any kind!

It looks like there are no alternatives. You pay or lose privacy. I think you can have advertisements without targeting single people and without selling data. Single person targeted ads are bullshit. You still can count clicks to your ad without need to know personal details. I do not think anyone in adtech is keeping that data to check later if click caused actuall buy. They just keep it as reference to spam you with the same crap and have some points when they prove clicks were kind of legit.

This seems to be a very constrained limited way to frame the issue. It is a false choice.

Just because you pay for something doesn't mean you are also not the product. Businesses will maximize value and then they will draw revenue from both subscriptions and advertising. So simply paying will not solve the problem.

Negative externalities are usually handled by regulation in a civilized society as markets are a race to the bottom and cannot account for them. So safety standards, environmental protections, child labour, drugs all have to be regulated and enforced.

In this case the potential for micro targeted propaganda and misinformation are negative externalities. In this specific case its easy to tackle the problem at source by banning micro targeting by advertisers and platforms. Only textual context and immediate location can be used. This protects revenue streams and the current model. But removes the incentives to stalk everyone and hoover up incredible amounts of data to build profiles for micro targeting.

That's something most people think and do. The problem is that they assume that all this targeting will work in future as it is now.

My wild guess is it will not, it will get much clever, it will be able to figure out if a given person is "worth being targeted" (buys expensive goods and services and does this often, has big credit on his card, etc.).

Soon or later those who does not qualify will get nothing or will have to pay a lot to access given service since not being part of it will be considered suspicious (by government, employers, shops). US gov wants people to give their "social" username at the border, Chinese government is working on system to "rate" citizens, companies are setting the prizes in online stores on the base of knowledge they have about incoming customers.

Traversing a saying about communists and capitalists it seems that social networks are giving away a rope they will hang its users someday.

The frustrating part is that there is no "pay what they get from advertisers" price point. Facebook gets $5 per user per year last time I checked. But if FB were a paid service, it would probably be like $10/mo... And I wouldn't pay that much for it.

$6.18 per user per quarter in 2017 Q4, and $26.76 per user per quarter for US/Canadian users. So nearly $25 per year, and over $100 per year for US/Canadian users assuming earnings per user stays constant or continue to rise


Would I be willing to pay the pennies a day that free services get from advertisers on my behalf? Yes.

Would I be willing to pay 10x-1000x times that for a half dozen $10/mo subscription? No.

The problem is is that (lack of) apathy is a strong signal, ripe for price-grading, and boy do they price grade!

Pennies on the day is a significant underestimate of how much value you are providing to the company that provides the service. That would be ~$7.30/year.

Actual revenue per user for Facebook in the US and Canada is $26+ / quarter or over $100/year... That is on the order of $10/month [1]. So if a company wanted to be as profitable as Facebook, and not make money from advertising, they would have to charge $10/mo. That is more than I am willing to pay for Facebook -- my friends have my phone number.

If you think profit of providers like Facebook should be limited then that's a regulation issue. Personally I don't think that should be the case.

It is possible to provide the service Facebook provides in a fully encrypted manner. Individual companies would require subsidies and audits to ensure encryption. Essentially regulation.

Another alternative is fully encrypted, distributed services where personal CPU and storage are used to support the service. This is possible through systems like Diaspora or Mastadon, but there is an ease of use / network effect issue there.

I just don't think it is as simple or inexpensive as pennies a day. Or to push a company to charge that little would require regulation.

[1] https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.cnbc.com/amp/2018/01/31/fac...

And this is sort of the problem. In order to overcome freeriders subscription prices are always exorbitant compared to the ad revenue. I can't afford even 1 dollar a month for every site I visit, I could however almost certainly beat the cpm price those sites earn from ads... But we have no way to ensure every one pays and we have no way to distribute even if we did.

There is a way, actually. Browser crypto mining. People just seem to (IMHO irrationally) hate it even more than surveillance and data gathering.

I'm not personally opposed to it actually but A) does it actually work? B) until people can pay rent in arbitrary coins it very much relies on mining the "right" coin to be able to get any useful USD, SEK, ZAR... Whatever out of it. C) because A is reliant on the cost of mining and established crypto-asset-ma-bobs are expensive to mine trying to get value off the small amount of cpu you can grab via JavaScript mining it incentives ScamCoins.

I think the hate is rational, but more importantly the math really doesn't work. It pays far less than advertising on all but the very least desirable sites.

There's the Amazon Prime / Apple iCloud whatever model: you pay a single monthly fee and you get access to a wide range of services. Amazon even has their Appstore whatsitcalled library where 3rd party apps are no-added-cost and they pay the app publishers on some kind of spotify like pay-per-use model.

Its a very slight variation on the middleman problem that doesn't really fix much, you just get a slightly different financial model for a creepy invasive middleman not much different than social media and advertisers.

TV model: I am paying for basic channels. Yet I am paying for selected channels, say National Geographic or BBC Earth if I want to get those.

Will this schema work with Internet? Like if I want FB I will pay for facebook's dedicated TCP/IP port access.

Sounds crazy of course but could it be something along these lines?

What about services that run on a P2P cloud? No fees, no ads, no tracking?

There is tracking on most p2p networks, and there aren’t really any p2p networks where the service is free, as in free beer.

I mean, the whole concept of the most widespread p2p networks is piracy, or the act of paying for bandwidth and electricity to save money on the movies that you steal.

"We cannot afford the advertising business model. The price of free is actually too high. It is literally destroying our society, because it incentivizes automated systems that have these inherent flaws."

This is ridiculous. If nobody knew that this was happening, we'd be going on with our lives and nothing would be different. Society is not being destroyed by advertisements being delivered more effectively with user data. Whatever they're doing with it, it's preferable to having to pay to use websites.

How about the very small vocal minority of people who legitimately care about their data being harvested get to pay every website they want to visit, and the rest of us stick with ads?

You can have functional platforms without the creepy and manipulative behavior that Facebook uses. Facebook would be a better Facebook if it were a service for users instead of advertisers.

The problem with Facebook is that it is owned and controlled by an individual whose personality, ethical standards and philosophy seems to be pretty static and problematic in many ways.

I don't think the author is talking about simple advertising, I think he is talking about the power to influence the public on a mass scale. I think it is fair to say that western societies are more polarized than they were ten years ago, and a reasonable argument can be made that social media has something to do with it. Ad-based business models make it necessary, to a degree at least, for platforms to monetize their user base.

I think it's fair to say Western societies have at least one millennium of being easily roused by pretty crude propaganda and much more polarised when the economy's not going so good. It's not like good old fashioned paid-for newsprint had a reputation for not provoking hysteria on a mass scale, or like the most obnoxious political commentators on the internet don't have Patreon accounts. Nothing to do with the payment model and everything to do with people being willing to influence and others being easily influenced.

If membership on Facebook was paid rather than ad based, is it not reasonable to think there would be less people available to be influences on that individual platform?

Add some more restrictive legislation on what major online platforms are allowed to display to users, and I think it would be a very different ball game.

So, at least two people disagree with the assertions that:

- Facebook being a paid platform for subscribers would reduce subscribers

- Adding restrictions to what Facebook was allowed to show users would have some affect

Very interesting.

re: "I don't think the author is talking about simple advertising, I think he is talking about the power to influence the public on a mass scale."

Isn't that what mass advertisers do? Do you think Coca Cola doesn't want to influence the public?

Maybe it's not about the power to do this, but rather what it's used for? Use advertising to sell a good product, and all is forgiven. It might even be considered positive in the case of a public health campaign.

Sell a defective, dangerous product, or outright scam, and they will complain about the advertising.

(These days, many people are looking at soda rather skeptically.)

Right, it's persuasion in both cases, but what people are being persuaded to do, and the degree of effectiveness, appears to be different enough now that it might be worthy of a public discussion and perhaps some policy changes. That's my interpretation anyways.

Well, everyone can point to their favorite problems in society. If you choose political polarization, loneliness, atomization and despair, this mix can suggest a society "coming apart" and might suggest social media could be a big of this by polarizing dialog, idea bubbles and "lack of real connections".

The thing is this picture kind of comes apart if you notice a lot of the polarizing dialogue comes from mainstream with dynamic that's been accelerating for many years, that atomization similarly increased significantly as described by Robert Putnam in Bowling alone and blaming things like the opioid epidemic on social networking is fairly absurd (factors like the loss of high paid industrial jobs and destruction of community are clearly more to blame than Facebook, however you might apportion the overall blame).

Moreover, the growing wealth disparity in this country is the elephant the behind a lot of these factors.

I'd note that the current wave of anti-Facebook rants seem to have appeared after the Cambridge Analytica "scandal", which allowed a parade of haters to appear with a variety of complaint; Facebook helped Trump win, Facebook sharing annoys because I don't want to engage with people's political rants.


How would elimination of advertising fix online communication platforms. It isn't the ads that is causing the groupthink and polarization, but the abundance of choice in things to follow and voices to listen to. Do you suggest restricting the speech of people online?

The polarization and groupthink is even present on online platforms that have no ads whatsoever, like Wikipedia and, to an extent, Hacker News.

The theory is:

Funded by advertising -> commercially incentivised to get as many users as possible and keep them on the site as long as possible -> optimise structure/design/layout/activity feed/suggested content/notifications to do that -> online communication problems.

For example, Facebook controls the algorithm that decides which posts appear in your news feed, the order of them, the real name policy, which other users see your posts, and when you receive notifications; Reddit controls which content appears on the front page, the ease of sign-up, and the default subs; Youtube controls which video auto-plays next, and the content and ordering of videos on the homepage, and so on.

All of them also have hired moderators, reporting mechanisms, automatic spam filtering; and policies on things like bots, how bans work, what sort of content is allowed/banned, pornography, hate speech, copyright infringement, and so on.

So for example, in the pursuit of growth and engagement, companies might turn a blind eye to thousands of bots propping up their user numbers; or promote content that made people angry or mislead them; if doing so produced the best engagement metrics.

There's also the problem of funded by advertising -> incentivised to improve ad targeting -> incentivised to push the boundaries on user privacy. I think we're only beginning to see the consequences of this.

I agree with you. My intuition says the culture war is a proxy for a class war, somehow, although I readily admit I can't yet formulate this rationally in much detail. I'm in my forties, and from my point of view, gender and race relations had been on a clear uptrend up until about 5 years ago. The continuous gender and race baiting on social media appears to be almost entirely driven by a certain stripe of feminist, who are able to project all their struggling in life onto white men, who are approximately as economically disadvantaged as they are in the big picture. Young people are hallucinating 'nazis' and 'fascists' everywhere, meanwhile real neo-nazis and fascists almost never make any appearance in these mudslinging debacles. It all seems tragic to me. People opting for small tribal solidarity over broad class solidarity.

> Society is not being destroyed by advertisements being delivered more effectively with user data.

Oh yes it is. When Russian (and American) Trump, Brexit or other Nazi supporters use targeting to deliver propaganda to those segments of society most vulnerable to it, democracy suffers.

The US got Trump, the UK got the Brexit, France the shocking rise of the Front National, we Germans got the AfD fash, Austria the FPÖ, Italy the M5S and Berlusconi rising from the dead, and the situation in Poland or Hungary went to total collapse of democracy. Most of this was enabled by propaganda on social media, especially as many newspapers and other real media outlets get their headlines from Facebook and Twitter trending topics.

One thing common to all these "movements": easily shareable (and digestible) "share pics" filled with lies and "alternative facts" creating a massive echo chamber for those lured into it. With an equally massive radicalization feedback loop - like with snuff videos, people always need more extreme stuff.

I dont understand why this gets downvoted. While all those things might have happend without social media its pretty obvious that targeted advertisment and "social media bubbles" push people into more extreme positions.

> I dont understand why this gets downvoted.

I have a suspicion: many people in the tech world do not like it when someone points out that the tech world is very much at fault for what happened.

Many people (tm), especially here, believe in the Holy Free Market as the Solution To All Problems... and having someone show them that the total lack of regulation did cause issues is bound to cause discomfort.

Your suggestion that Brexit, Trump, AfD, etc supporters are more vulnerable to propaganda is naive.

Actually, the problem is centralization, as Tim pointed out. The early pioneers are often proprietary systems (Windows, IE, Britannica) followed by open source software (Linux, WebKit, Wikipedia) which are better in tons of ways. For one, the long tail is served better (Linux has even been known to run on toasters, Wikipedia has way more articles). For another, people own their own data, identity and brand.

Look, you are writing this on YOUR domain because Wordpress gave you that ability. It powers 20% of all new websites. What we need as a society is a Wordpress for social networking.

Exactly! The peer-to-peer file sharing services prove that we can have nice things and not pay for them too.

(Although there is a problem if you want to make nice things and get paid for them...)

There already are P2P social network platforms, the problem is how do you get mass adoption?

I think it is important to realize that you are actually paying for the service, and that that is actually the right way to pay for it: You pay for the infrastructure of the internet by paying your ISP, and for the processing and storage of your own hardware by buying it. That is the service that someone actually has to operate for us, and it is a product everyone does already buy.

Yes, distributed infrastructure, including mesh networking in a hypothetical ideal world.

The actual cost of what e.g. FB does for its users is tiny.

My hunch is that there is a critical mass in number of active users, that once achieved, Network effects make it more expensive to be left out of the network than opt in to it.

What the magnitude of such metric actually is, probably depends as much on cultural aspects of your target demographic as the quality and usefulness of the network provided services.

Surely there is an academic paper on the subject, but if there isn't, then the real question is Why?!

We built such a platform. Our company already has mass adoption.

There are various ways to get it. I would say viral expansion is the best way.

Qbix, eh? It looks great, congratulations!

Thank you!

Feel free to reach out by email if you want to get help getting started with the FOSS platform

Cheers! Will do.

I don't know if that's true. At least with a centralized social network we have someone to yell at, and Congress potentially has an ability to regulate it.

Imagine a de-centralized Facebook with the same engagement-optimized feed. Maybe it runs over the Web, maybe it runs on something like Ethereum.

What if we built that, and wound up with the same set of problems? Except now there's no off button, nobody to petition, and government can't intervene.

Decentralization is not a silver bullet. And in this case I might worry that the medicine is worse than the disease.

Why would a decentralized Facebook have the same engagement-optimized feed? That’s an artifact of wanting to keep users around as long as possible so as to put ad after ad after ad in front of their eyeballs.

That's like argueing that dictatorship might be better than democracy because at least there is someone to hold accountable.

Well, there is someone who is responsible, but the problem is that you cannot hold them accountable. Which is why democracy avoids the same concentration of power in the first place.

Which is also the whole point of decentralization. You avoid the concentration of power that would allow any single party or small minority to turn against you without any way out for you.

If you email provider starts selling your emails to the highest bidder, you don't need to regulate your email provider. You simply switch to a different one. Or run your own server. Decentralization is about keeping the power your hands.

I would say my comparison is more akin to dictatorship vs anarchy. Obviously neither choice is ideal, so the specifics of how these systems are implemented is vital.

I'm a big fan of decentralization in general, but I think it's worth pointing out where things could go wrong at scale.

Almost everyone making this claim is pretending to speak from a highly priveleged position on behalf of people who aren’t priveleged.

They assume that just because they don’t have a problem paying $5/mo, rest of the world doesn’t either. Their naive solution (“charge me money!”) is all about providing them some privacy while leaving the overwhelming majority of the world either without the free services or without the same privacy the relatively-rich would get.

Sure, that's mostly true. It doesn't mean they're wrong.

As Jaron Lanier pointed out in his recent TED talk, with previous information technologies like books we figured out how to both charge for the information being distributed while providing access free of charge to those who could not afford it via public libraries. https://www.ted.com/talks/jaron_lanier_how_we_need_to_remake...

Furthermore, what Feld and others are describing here is an economic externality. You could both be right that many people would not and/or could not pay $5/month, yet still the negative social cost of a free product costs that user far more in the long run in the form of political unrest.

social cost of a free product costs that user far more in the long run in the form of political unrest

I believe you’re referring to the last elections. But the way I see it, this is mostly a case of people whose candidate lost wanting to change the rules of the game because their candidate lost. I voted for Hillary but I’m not delusional to blame the results on any nefarious use of ad targeting before blaming the campaign’s poor strategy (specifically, pouring money into states like Arizona to end up with 3m+ votes while getting too few votes in states that made a difference.)

I'm not blaming the outcome on nefarious ad targeting, rather I would say that engagement-maximizing algorithms massively amplified Donald Trump's voice during the campaign. My concern isn't so much that my team lost, but rather what sort of candidates will succeed in this new media landscape. No other 2016 candidate from either side was really comparable to Donald Trump in how he used social media, both organically or with ads.

Political campaigns are waged within the media landscape of the day. When Nixon sweated during the first televised debate, he lost the debate and the election. That signaled a transition from radio to TV as the dominant medium for political campaigns, and the types of candidates who won national office in the TV era were different from those from earlier eras. In that way the dominant medium of the day has a filtering & selection effect on who succeeds in a political race. Trump's election signaled another transition, this time to the era of social media. It's not partisan to worry about the type of candidates that transition will push to the fore.

Did you have the same concerns when Obama won?

No. But FWIW my concern is less about data harvesting & ad targeting, and more with how the algorithm itself is amplifying extreme views. But yes, I am aware that the 2012 Obama campaign used the same data collection API that Cambridge abused (although Obama's campaign didn't buy the data from a 3rd party)

Yes but it's a step. At least the privacy oriented offer would improve. We can always iterate on that. You can't solve a complicated problem all at once, and a lot of things start by being sold for a lot of money to the riches first before their execution become cheap enough to be targeted to less privileged, and so one. See: beds, fridges, etc.

And we can a apply your other plan in parallel in you have one, to maximize efficiency. And if you don't, well, then you realize it's though.

a lot of things start by being sold for a lot of money to the riches first before their execution become cheap enough to be targeted

Things don’t become cheap in a vacuum: advertising is literally how many things that would have cost money could be offered for free. In that sense, we already have a solution to what you describe.

It’s been over a decade since the iPhone was launched. Its cost hasn’t come down. So Apple can boast all it wants about its privacy features but it’s not a mass market product outside of the US. For proof, just look at their marketshare in countries like India. I think if in a decade a company like Apple hasn’t been able to figure out a way to lower price in order to make their privacy-first product more affordable, it’s at least worth admitting this is a very hard problem to solve at scale. And I say this as an Apple fanboy.

> It’s been over a decade since the iPhone was launched. Its cost hasn’t come down.

Huh? Says who? How much do you think you could charge for an iPhone 3G today?

Apple hasn't lowered prices in the manner you're imagining because they are a luxury brand. Their business model is that you pay extra so that other people can see that you own an iPhone. Lowering prices means they get less money while losing value. But Apple has lowered prices in a very real sense, by providing much more performance at the same inflation-unadjusted prices.

That logic applied to Google or FB would mean “Google has dropped prices for Search: the 2001 version only costs pennies.”

True, but also, you’re using a much older version of a revolutionary product.

> It’s been over a decade since the iPhone was launched. Its cost hasn’t come down.

The price was lowered by $200 shortly after release, causing outrage amongst the earliest buyers. Compensatory credits were issued to affected customers.

Later, Apple began selling previous models as a more affordable line rather than eliminating them each cycle. The newest models retain their price point, but devices from the previous year receive a price cut.

They haven’t started making low cost commodity devices at the bottom of the market, but Apple typically doesn’t compete in that area.

Modern advertising is a bit of a pain to model in an economic setting. It acts as a subsidy, but also an expense to the company. Which sounds kind of like a tax. However, why is it that paying for services is performed by advertisements, something which has psychological externalities even exists? It breaks the the traditional economic model of the labour market. We have an income to people which doesn't come from work or the government. It's a weird economic aberration which people don't like to talk about, beyond "it is not very good for us" but in some form necessary to complete information in the market in order to increase it's efficiency.

Unfortunately this externality is not like environmental externalities. You can't just "fix" it by throwing money at mitigation measures (ie scrubbers, tree planting, fluid separation, dispersants, breakdown agents, remediation), the cost is fused into the society in subtle and difficult ways to isolate and measure.

What does that mean? Well for completing information in the market we can't scrap it completely. But we also want to cut out the psychological aspects surely? Obviously any solution would be imperfect, so I'm going to start with: We need a stricter, more comprehensive ratings agency in the way that films/TV games and music is rated. The greater the psychological impact, the less it can be broadcast to the public at large. So bland statements of technical specifications could be displayed anywhere, but something which says "buy now, limited time only, you'll miss out and your life will suck" will be limited to exclusively infomercial channels only.

So what do we do about the money side then? How will people pay for the services they can't actually afford? No idea. I'd like to put a tax on advertising, but how does that meaningfully go to people, or website holders? However, society getting to a state of charging people to skip ads/aka opt out, while not earning enough sounds a lot like Black Mirror.

This may be a case where an imperfect solution is still better than nothing. One where it should be reassessed constantly, lest loopholes eventually become exploited, like they are in almost any regulation or tax code which does not change.

I read this post over and over trying to tweak it, but it still sounds ridiculous. But I don't know how else to continue the conversation.

Is that true though?

a) who are advertisers targeting and why? If it’s people who can’t afford the service why are they then targeting them? Only people who have excess money are worth targeting. So there is a choice for most people.

b) take the example of Facebook. 1.5 bn daily users generate 9 bn $ in revenue, that’s 6 $ per year and active user, so 50c a month, not 5$/mo

a) Pepsi and Coca Cola is consumed by people of all sorts so just because someone can’t afford to pay $5/mo to access fb, they’re still worth targets for all types of products.

b) Vast majority of current users won’t pay $5/mo. If 10% do (and I’d say that’s an exaggeration), then they’d need to charge $5/mo.

a) of course. I’m questioning your assumption that people don’t have choice. If people have a choice to choose between coke and Pepsi or water they should be able to choose between data and money

b) There is no way to tell. Maybe 80% would pay 50c a month. I’d say there is some middle ground between 100%/0$ and your assumption of 10%/5$.

I’m questioning your assumption that providing a choice would move the needle much in solving the real issue. The choice you’re asking for in this case seems to only offer additional privacy for those in the top X% of wage levels while pretending it is a solution to the wider problem.

If I had a billion dollars to spend building a paid version of fb versus spending that money educating everyone about the privacy controls they already have, I feel the latter would make much more of an impact than the former.

I think you might be underestimating the lower Y%.

As someone else has pointed out, education won’t help if the platform is abusing the data.

The latter would have zero impact because it has no effect whatsoever on how facebook abuses your data.

How do you define abuse? ow does Facebook abuse data?

How about use of data for purposes for which there exists no informed consent with the option to refuse without excessive negative consequences?

Facebook abuses data by using it for purposes other than providing the service they offer to their users, when those users for the most part have very little to no understanding what those other uses entail, plus there isn't even an option to refuse that use without being locked out of a de-facto monopoly service that they intentionally constructed in such a way as to achieve that monopoly.

even 10% is overly optimistic though...I bet its <1%

What ought to happen is that people have more than enough money to buy things they’re likely to use, driving money into the economy for things that are useful.

Instead, wages are terrible for the most part. Income inequality is so off the scale now that you can’t expect people to just pay for all the little things they use. Making all these free things might have the side effect of distracting people from realizing how little they can actually afford.

Since no one is paying for things that are useful, instead money goes to whatever can trick the most ad viewers: sensational news, outrageous things, etc. Anything that can’t be made interesting to most people has trouble making money.

So if people had more money they would buy useful things, since they don't have money they buy useless things?

Facebook is a mirror, and a magnifier. "Fixing" FB is, at best, curing a symptom. A general lack of critical thinking is not FB's fault. To promote otherwise is naive and dangerous.

I personally see the biggest problem with FB (and others) is their continuing focus of making their platform as addictive as possible. While I agree that people will likely always be addicted to something, we've gone after the tobacco industry already and are starting to hold the food industry more responsible. For gambling, every advertisement comes with a warning and free resources about how to stop that MUST be funded by the people making the money. I think that is the thing that we should be making these social platforms fund, resources to help break the chase of the constant need for dopamine via likes.

Yes. But that's still a mirror.

No doubt humans are flawed. But is that FB's fault?

Facebook is a mirror in the same way meth is a mirror.

That everyone has self destructive tendencies is pretty clear, it's only when you get a reward for following through with them that you have a problem.

That the reward is likes or drugs is pretty immaterial.

It's a mirror, but perhaps it's a fun-house mirror: algorithmically warped to amplify 'engaging' content. YouTube has similar issues. Start a fresh account and do some innocent searches on topics like the history of civil rights. Pretty soon you'll see suggested videos with some pretty extreme political perspectives

> A general lack of critical thinking is not FB's fault.

Are you sure about that?

I don't believe FB is responsible for the education system. It's the gov's (and parents') best interest to blame FB, else they have to admit their responsibility.

How does it follow from that that it's not also facebook's fault?

If the government and parents are failing to prepare children for dealing with the adversaries that they encounter in life ... does that mean anyone who is using that lack of preparation to their advantage while knowingly hurting those under-prepared people cannot possibly be at fault for their actions?

If a child hasn't learned about the dangers of drugs in school or from their parents ... does that mean that someone selling them hard drugs cannot be at fault for making money from that situation?

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” – Upton Sinclair

SV makes too much money from advertising to be able to admit the truths about it.

There is no free lunch: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8585237

Advertising is our C8: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10047706

"There are a few mentions of Zynga (which we were investors in) in the various article chain which caused me to reflect even more on the 2007 - 2010 time period when free-to-consumer (supported by advertising) was suddenly conflated with freemium (or free trials for enterprise software)."

Is that the company that sold "virtual goods" on Facebook.

Pay real money to "send" a cartoon image of a brownie to another Facebook user.

"What is going on here ("free services") is nothing new.

The entire television industry was created on it (broadcast TV was free, supported by advertising, dating back well before I was born.)

Nielsen ratings started for radio in the 1940s and TV in the 1950s. The idea of advertisers targeting users of free services based on data is, well, not new.

Propaganda is not new either. The etymology of the word from Wikipedia is entertaining in its own right."


What if a user simply wants a method of communicating with a friend, family member or colleague

Is that type of communication done via television, radio or propaganda

How about telegraph, telephone or internet service

What is the "service"

Is it entertainment

Is it a means of communication between friends, family and colleagues

If it is entertainment, then is it dissemination[1]

1. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16840205

Is advertising also dissemination

Is communication with friends, family and colleagues different from "dissemination* See [1]

Is there any history of surveillance of communication over telegraph, telephone or (until recently) internet service in order to inform advertising

This is such a great point.

I remember first seeing ads in gmail and trying to figure why it made me feel physically nauseous, while the early implementations of Google search ads seemed completely reasonable and inoffensive.

It was definitely the fact that they were showing me ads based on private communication as opposed to my previous consumption habits that caused the visceral reaction.

It's paradoxical b/c paying customers are even better ad targets.

I think advertisements are OK, as long as personal data not aggregated, nor cross referenced/shared. I'm OK with google display few search related ads along the page. But it's insane to see van ads on youtube after I searched for one.

> We are getting a first taste of how difficult it is for a world in which humans and computers are intrinsically linked.

It's not just the humans being linked to computers. They're also linked to other humans.

And computers that pretend to be humans. And computers that process, redirect and focus stuff from other humans.

Unless AIs have a higher ethical standard, free will for humans will become more and more an illusion.

Edit: I'm thinking of Ian Banks' Culture novels. In Excession, there's a ship mind that doesn't respect human autonomy. Other ship minds call it "meatfucker". As a slur.

Yet another false dichotomy.

There is a difference between free as in beer and free as in freedom. Only the latter can offer us privacy and security.

Exactly why RealPeople.io (https://realpeople.io) was created. The business model of using targeted advertising needs to go away. With ads, platforms have the incentive to sell user data and keep users online as much as possible to maximize ad impressions. AI creates and uses phycological profiles of users and not only shows them targets ads but decides who sees what.

We need to support social media that use paid subscriptions with no ads. And we need to support platforms that make it core to their offering that they are not going to share user data, and which have a business model that will align with that.

There is a lot of discussion around this nowadays which is good, but it's time for people to actually take action and be leader and make the change themselves.

I like this idea. But... you really need to put up more content or content preview so users know what they are getting before signing up.

Oh please. The price of free -- being shown ads -- is not too high. It's free.

We need good advertising systems. Businesses need to be able to pitch new customers. We need to clean up some issues wrt privacy of course. But well-targeted, relevant ads are a good thing.

> Oh please. The price of free -- being shown ads -- is not too high. It's free.

Seriously? That's supposed to be an argument?

> We need to clean up some issues wrt privacy of course. But well-targeted, relevant ads are a good thing.

How do you define privacy that using data about a person to target them is compatible with that concept of privacy?

Just as you think the introduction is done, the whole article is over. It feels very incomplete and there are some punctuation mistakes and incomplete scentences. Sheep-like upvoting seems like the cause of it reaching the top here.

Pretty good. The one thing in this article I found off was the notion that regulation by "the community" was preferable to regulation by, well, regulation. That is a fundamental mistake. "The community" is a bunch of businesses that follow this system because if they didn't, someone else would, and get market share. This lack of privacy is just capitalism at work. The problem to excesses in capitalism is government regulation. True that, for child labor, pollution, whatevs. "The community" is just mouthwash.

Good point to the article, though the quote about Cambridge Analytica seems a bit misguided - the leak there was as a result of Facebook Platform which is antithetical to the ad targeting model which the rest of the article is about.

FB leaking user data through CA is not part of FB’s business model.

I'm amazed that storage is cheap enough that companies can afford to keep all that data.

The type of data we are talking about has not grown, while storage capacity has.

Back in the 90s, that sentiment reflected reality; but not today.

I completely agree, and this is a prime example of when government intervention is absolutely necessary:

Consumers cannot protect their long term interests and someone is taking advantage of it.

There are many reasons why they can't. Sometimes there's competition that forces you to only consider your short term interests. Other times a limited resource (ie time, expertise) is required to evaluate a set of choices and the consumer can't afford it on it's own. Or maybe the widespread adoption of one thing creates a monopoly and makes other choices impossible. Whether the end result is nutritional deficiencies from unenriched food or complete and total misinformation, someone needs to intervene, and the only organization that has the obligation and means to do so is the government.

The governments all across the world need to stop this cancer of misinformation and deception from spreading any further. We need to make them stop it.

"The governments all across the world need to stop this cancer of misinformation and deception from spreading any further. We need to make them stop it."

The irony is, a good number of these govs persist because of misinformation and deception. Until a tool like FB actually undermines that status quo the odds of change are low.

Look at the alleged Russian interference in the USA. The USA's spin was on the order of "we would never do that." Obviously, we know, that's no true. The US has been "protecting American interests" for ages.

But Facebook does seem to have undermined the status quo in the US and Britain, if we attribute anything to fb. Actually, what they have to do is almost undermine the status quo but not quite, and still look threatening. If the status quo is undermined, the new people have no motivation to change it.

Allow me to be blunt.

1) The rich and powerful have gotten more rich and powerful since the birth of FB.

2) Cyber-surveillance by state and non-state actors has increased since the birth of FB.

Yes, on one hand it's correlation (but on the other it's an assessment of the status quo). If 1 depends on 2 then FB is not to be considered on the side of the people.

> Consumers cannot protect their long term interests

If that's really true, then consumers are doomed. Nobody else can protect your interests if you are unwilling to do so yourself.

> the only organization that has the obligation and means to do so is the government.

Governments are subject to all of the same misaligned incentives that ordinary people and corporations are. Only it's worse with governments because they make the laws.

In other words, governments "solving" these problems is a "cure" that's worse than the disease.

I propose one year in prison for anyone caught believing fake news.

Ludicrous. That would leave 1% of the population unimprisoned… who are atheists.

So what you will about the accuracy of the claims of the prophets and other scriptural authors, but it's hard to call them news today. They will very clearly not be locked up just for that alone. (As for atheists, don't assume they'll get off any easier than believers when all the facts are known.)

There is an alternative to this method of providing a free service: Mining cryptocurrency on the users computer. Yet doing that, even floating the possibility of it, is met with great, vociferous anger. "How dare you use my CPU." Even if you are up front and ask people first. And so joining a massive surveillance system is the alternative left. People are their own worst enemy. No one is putting a gun to anyone's head to use facebook, and even when people find out what's going on, 90% keep using facebook.

The problem is that cryptominers are not an alternative to ads, they're used in parallel with ads.

> The Price of Free is Actually Too High

The price of centralized "free" is indeed too high.

Facebook is not bad because they leak your data, it is bad because it hypnotizes people.

Stupid clickbait.

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