It matters little if Facebook users, their attention-span or their data trail and the content they churn out are the “product”....Facebook’s business model (data, data and more data) requires the company to maximize the time users spend browsing, reading and clicking through its network.
As we have seen, the company has no problem with using people’s psychology against them to achieve this. And the company’s devious and underhanded tricks (like its data mining “security app”) designed to Hoover up as much information as possible are legendary.
Multiple studies show “social” media use is detrimental to people’s psychological wellbeing and these companies not only own the channels billions use to communicate daily, they own the CONTENT of those communications. With FB and Google/Alphabet cozying up to the DoS, DoD and intelligence services...and deploying algorithms to limit “fake news” (i.e. any and all information that challenges the status quo) these companies have way too much power.
They are a menace to our societies and need to be busted up and regulated.
I'm playing devil's advocate, but the same could be said of most companies. It's the basis of marketing. Using people's psychology to sell them products or ads, which most of the time aren't really good (or even harmful, like sodas, tobacco, junk food) for them.
Instagram which uses no smart algorithms to speak of is the social network that is responsible for most depressions not FB.
You need to be able to answer why that is before you can start making FB responsible for things that they aren't really.
The real danger is our own vanity not clever algorithms from FB.
You're worth more as an advertising target than you are as a customer. I'd be willing to bet that their own advertising departments are more interested in increasing the advertising value of the subscribers that do respond than it is in actually selling subscriptions.
this idea is at the core of books like 1984, for example.
Calling rap music "c...rap", calling them useds instead of users, the gravmass stuff, writing diatribes about not wearing ties, not to mention eating his toe jam on camera that one time... He's a kook and will never be taken seriously.
Like it or not we are superficial beings and culture carries with it certain norms that must be adhered to if we wish to maintain broad spectrum appeal or credibility.
It's not enough to have good ideas.
His organization offered another way. He never thought it would get off the ground, but it turned out that corporations are desperate to save a buck and are more than willing to work with free software in order to do it. The GPL was the first keystone, his advocacy helped to popularize it.
His choice of appealing to nerds like him was perfect, and his kook persona where he doesn't bother trying to button up his rougher edges is far more convincing than any amount of sanitizing ever would be.
More to the point, Stallman is insanely smart, and is more accomplished than probably anybody posting on HN, including even pg. He didn't stop being smart just because he became notable.
"c...rap" is the most obvious example of this cited upthread. de gustibus non est disputandum, man; spend more time talking about more objective things with objective tone.
Even when a product is not free, you are still the product. I'm pretty sure Walmart is selling my purchase information to advertisers.
In all fairness, there is zero setup and overhead to use Internet services, whereas Neilsen families had to fill out daily usage logs and install special TV interfaces.
But when it became time to fill out the logbook I couldn't actually do it. I finally figured out they couldn't care less what TV I watched, and were actually trying to work out what ads I had watched that had aired at most in the previous 24 hours. Kinda difficult information to provide when using DVDs, Netflix, and having cut the cord many years before. There was nowhere to even say that you watched stuff on Netflix. You could only supply channel names and times!
(They also never bothered to check their help email worked, which it didn't. They apologised several weeks later.)
And while hardly a (modern) sci-fi maven, I never encountered any works that tried to step through how a species would achieve telepathy.
The stories I read that had telepathic species glossed over their transformation, usually with some variant on the phrase, "It wasn't pretty."
"The design of a medium strongly affects the revenue model that is applied to that medium. Entrepreneurs will seek an appropriate way of creating a revenue constrained and encouraged by the media technology. One example of this relationship can be discovered through examining the different variations of the television medium. The traditional technology of broadcast made it difficult for content creators to charge individual viewers for selecting a program. This lead to revenue sought via advertising, based on making the viewers the product rather than the customers, and resulted in bland programming in an attempt to get as large an audience as possible to sell to advertisers. The technology of cable television and scrambling made it easier to charge for subscription or pay-per-view, causing more directed programming towards smaller audiences. [...] The revenue model has implications for what content will be made available on a medium as well as the quality of that content. Web technology designers can strongly impact which revenue models will be used on the web. Creating alternative revenue models is important to avoid the application of potentially harmful revenue models due to a lack of alternatives."
The internet, on the other hand was something new. Fresh, unfiltered and unmanipulated... Until recently, now it's just the same shit but exponentially more insidious.
Where's Sidney Lumet when we need him?
"I want you to go to your keyboards, throw open your windows and get MAD. I want you to scream goddamnit, I'M MAD AS HELL AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!"
It's a totally shameless clone of facebook. We'll collect user data, monetize it, track people, everything. The whole 9 yards.
The only difference is that we'll take the profit and share it with users after we take a fair share for ourselves. Users will love it because they get paid for it. Advertisers will love it because the users will have extra cash to buy shit with.
Worth rereading David Foster Wallace's "E Unibas Pluram" (1993), which is largely about our codependent relationship with TV and how it will inevitably metamorphose into a similar relationship with other forms of media: https://jsomers.net/DFW_TV.pdf
I'm ok with repeating that meme as a defensive mental checkpoint. Say it to remind oneself to limit data as much as possible to prevent its monetization for Facebook's advantage.
However, I also understand the author's point that it's a thought-stopping soundbite that miseducates people on the economics of multi-sided platforms. The "you're the product" labels us as sheeple. Unfortunately, we don't seem to have another neutral word to describe audiences as quasi-non-paying-customers. Another example other than Facebook might be jazz festivals in the USA.
A lot of jazz festivals organized by cities have free attendance. If the attendees don't pay, how do they pay the musicians? The cities rent space to vendors in the park to sell food and drinks. It's so critical that they sell enough food & drinks to break even (or make a small profit) that they make rules preventing attendees from bringing in their own food.
It's a multi-sided economy: (1) the attendees, (2) the musicians, (3) the vendors, and (4) the city
The interesting point is that when I was growing up and attending these free festivals every year, nobody said, "you know at the Jazz Festival, you're not the customer, you're the product." There was no derogatory meme like that for those shows. (Even if there was, most of us would still go because we want to go see Herbie Hancock play piano.)
There is a similarity between jazz festival attendees and Facebook users ... the consumers of free services in a multi-sided exchange ... but we don't seem to have a non-derogatory label for it.
In a critique of my piece on Twitter, NY Magazine's Max Read suggests, more succinctly: "There's no such thing as a free lunch" https://twitter.com/max_read/status/989893433639755776
That bit of folk wisdom isn't going to wow anybody in a TED Talk, but I think it's more apt than "you're the product."
Why? I use a lot of services knowing that they are spying on me and selling my data. In those cases I think the service is worth it.
You don't need to be some kind of sheep to make this economic decision. The sooner people realize that we truly are the product in these circumstances (and other non-online activities) the better as they'll be more educated in respect to what they're choosing to be part of. Sugar coating it or bringing up its complexity doesn't really help. That saying is perfectly valid as-is and should be a message worth promoting. Hemming and hawing about it not being totally accurate doesn't seem to be helping things.
The analogy for the jazz festival is that the hungry & thirsty attendees in a "walled-garden" of the park are offered up as so-called "products" to the vendors to be sold food & drink. Hence, "You Are The Product".
If we want to dismantle the analogy in the direction of Facebook, we could complain that "Facebook doesn't sell food & drink to the web surfer so I don't see how the jazz festival applies."
Well, that's how analogies work. You have to look for the commonalities instead of the differences.
I never said Facebook isn't harmful. My analogy was not an apologetic defense of Facebook. It's unfortunate that I can't even discuss Facebook in an intellectual and detached manner without first prefacing it with the "Facebook-is-my-enemy" street credentials first. I've never had a Facebook account and I never will.
My analogy is specifically about "product" being a label that (unintentionally) makes people dumber, not smarter, about the economics of multi-sided markets. I found it fascinating that attendees to music festivals were not hammered with the pejorative label "you are the product" -- even though that's what they were. The analogy points out that to "get something for free" in a multi-sided market, an indirect payment has to be made to make that happen -- and it happens in other businesses besides Facebook.
 Previously wrote that Facebook is a "devolves into a worthless waste of time": https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16360609
 Previously wrote that Facebook drives people apart instead of bringing them together: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15676544
In fact... now that I think about it, that’s a good way to describe the whole place, it’s like if Disney and Facebook made a city/state.
Also, as someone who actually lives in Singapore, I can tell you for certain that SlowRobotAhead is spouting complete nonsense.
Don’t get me wrong I was fascinated by SG, but it’s not real. Not real in the same way say NYC or Tokyo are real. It’s beautiful, but it’s the air conditioned city top to bottom inside and out.
I’ve spent enough time there and around the world to know what I was looking at. Beautiful though.
The police here don’t wear body armor, by the way. Where did you hallucinate that from?
$80k permits — have you seen the goddamn traffic in Novena on a weekend? Oh, never mind, you’ve “spent enough time” here. Obviously.
Air conditioned city — is that supposed to be a jab? It’s as if you’ve forgotten that we’re right at the equator. Look up a map sometime.
Further, people have indeed been influenced by media before facebook, but to deny the extremist recruitment that happens trough it seems just foolish.
Even if everything in your FB profile is a lie, your friends then provide the demographic information about you. eg you are going to similar to them.
And because you are on Facebook, you are now available to the advertisers.
Being in their web has value for them, even if you consciously try to avoid being of value.
Making users think they got the better of them is part of the business model. The only way to win is not to play.
Will internet users outside of HN begin to reflect on what Facebook is doing behind the scenes? Will they care?
An executive from a large data broker was recently quoted as saying users care more about "relevance" than they do about "privacy". Is this true?
How would we ascertain what users care about? Would we ask them?
Is Facebook's internet.org the modern equivalent of "free AOL CDs" for the underdeveloped world?
Is it true that 91% of Facebook's revenue comes from mobile apps and only 9% is from laptop/desktop?
Does this explain why Brian Acton advised users to "delete" Facebook, i.e. delete the mobile app?
For example, when users non-interactively export data, e.g. photos, using mbasic.facebook.com via laptop/desktop each evening while they are sleeping, then upload the data to their mobile device and view the data outside of any Facebook-controlled app, free from any advertising or tracking, including while offline. Does this contribute to Facebook revenue?
1. See, e.g.,
The stupefying pointlessness of Facebook's political theatre
Breaking up with Facebook: Users confess they're spending less time
They think it's over: Zuckerberg's former mentor says Facebook will get away with everything
Facebook Finds It Harder to Get More People to Log On
'Facebook is a morality-free zone': tech chief lambasted by MP
Facebook warns investors that more Cambridge Analyticas are likely
Facebook's Zuckerberg faces formal summons from MPs
Top programmers will leave Facebook and Google if they gain 'evil' reputations
Facebook Launches a New Ad Campaign With an Old Message
Facebook: Crisis? What crisis? Look at our revenue, it's fantastic
Brit MPs brand Facebook a 'great vampire squid' out for cash
Facebook CTO says sorry journalists feel firm is trying to suppress the truth
2. See, e.g.,
Facebook's Internet.org has connected almost 100M to the 'internet'
100 Million People Are Connected to Facebook's Walled-Garden Internet
Mobile advertising represents 91% of Facebook's ad revenue
That's true, but the "critique ... that TV placed the interests of advertisers over those of viewers" easily extends to questions about data privacy.
> What people seem to mean when they say that you’re Facebook’s product is that Facebook treats you like a product—that it fails to respect your individualism, your humanity, or your long-term interests. And the implication is that this disrespect flows inevitably from the fact that you aren’t paying for Facebook’s service.
When I use it, I also mean that Facebook's incentives aren't to cater to me, but rather to itself and to a lesser extent, its advertiser-customers from which it gets its revenue. I, as a non-paying user, have little leverage to demand consideration. It loses no revenue if I leave.
> That helps to explain why Google and Facebook really don’t think of their users as their products—at least, not their main products. Their leaders have always regarded advertising, and by extension users’ attention and data, as means to the end of building the products they really care about: Google search, Google Assistant, Facebook’s news feed.
I don't buy it. Google kills products that it has trouble monetizing. They aren't labors of love, begrudgingly subsidized by advertising.
Scandals like Facebook's are finally exposing this excessively optimistic line of thinking as the lie that it is. Tech companies aren't some special kind of company, they're companies just like Ford, Goldman Sachs, Philip Morris, Boeing, etc.
> But it’s 2018, and it’s time for Facebook’s critics to move past what has become a tired cliché. There’s something nihilistic about telling people they’re the product of a gigantic corporation and there’s nothing they can do about it. “You are the product” paints us as powerless pawns in Facebook’s game but gives us no leverage with which to improve our predicament.
This is BS. There's plenty they can do: they can disengage, they can find alternative services better suited to them, etc. It's only nihilistic if you think you have no choice except to use Facebook and play its game.
> There are at least two alternative ways of viewing our relationship to Facebook that hold more promise for making that relationship a healthier and less exploitive one. The first is to view ourselves as customers of Facebook, paying with our time, attention, and data instead of with money....The second is to view ourselves as part of Facebook’s labor force. Just as bees labor unwittingly on beekeepers’ behalf, our posts and status updates continually enrich Facebook. But we’re humans, not bees, and as such we have the capacity to collectively demand better treatment.
Aaaand it's confirmed: the author thinks we have no choice except to use Facebook and play its game, so we should try recontextualize our situation to motivate us to beg for better treatment.
> "Cynics might not believe it, but Google and Facebook didn’t adopt the free model in order to serve advertisers. On the contrary, they adopted the advertising model as a way to keep serving their users for free. Google did so only with great reluctance [...]"
> "That helps to explain why Google and Facebook really don’t think of their users as their products—at least, not their main products. Their leaders have always regarded advertising, and by extension users’ attention and data, as means to the end of building the products they really care about: Google search, Google Assistant, Facebook’s news feed."
This runs contrary to all we know about these companies. For example, "common sense" knowledge about Google has always been that it's primarily an advertising company that happens to do search very well and is technologically innovative. Now, common sense is wrong often enough that it's reasonable to question it now and then, but what evidence has the author to support his assertions? I'd be interested to know if there's any actual evidence that Facebook and Google would ditch advertising if they could (instead of it being their primary business).
I find the author makes several extraordinary and unsupported assertions which contradict all we thought we knew about these companies. He may very well be right, but he really should support these assertions.
I summarized a lot of the literature in this article a while back about how Google landed on its business model: http://www.slate.com/articles/business/when_big_businesses_w...
See in particular John Battelle's "The Search" (2005), Steven Levy's "In the Plex" (2011), and Doug Edwards' "I'm Feeling Lucky" (2011).
As for Facebook, there's probably less public documentation but I have been following/covering it from very early on and personally know a few of its earliest employees. Ads have never been Zuck's focus.
Again, as I say in this piece, the fact that these companies didn't set out to become advertising/surveillance juggernauts doesn't excuse anything. They absolutely are. But I raised this point about their mission and origins to help explain why it seems obvious to those companies' leaders that customers' data is not their primary product.
By the way, I do agree with this other statement you made:
> "The pithiness that makes “you are the product” so quotable risks obscuring the complex pact between Facebook and its users, in ways that make social media’s problems seem inevitable and insoluble. They’re not—but if we want to fix them, the first thing we need to do is redefine our relationship."
I don't have much faith in Facebook's "pact" with its users, but I do agree the fatalistic mindset of "this is the way things are, and you are a fool if you expect otherwise" (implied by "you are the product") is worse than useless: it trains us to accept a rather unacceptable state of things.
There is a really telling and truthful scene in the Social Network movie about that, when Saverin wants to introduce ads and sponsoring opportunities way too early and Zuck refuses.
Former-employees-turned-critics like the author of the "Chaos Monkeys" book also agree with that : I'm paraphrasing but he says 2 important things : 1) that the ads sales organization within FB often felt neglected because Zuck initially really, really didn't care or understand this industry. Sheryl basically ran that, and still does to some extent 2) They were really serious about "make the world more open and connected" mantra internally. It's a genuinely mission driven company (and I'm sure recent controversies must have made huge waves)
I'm a former Facebook engineer. For sure, and especially since the IPO, it's definitely become an ads company, no point denying that. But it's also very fair to say it wasn't built to be one.
Same goes for Google really : who believes Larry & Sergei were thinking "let's build an advertising behemoth !" when they came up with PageRank in a Stanford dorm ?
Most ideas that became big weren't built from the get go with money as the end goal. That's just what follows after success.
This is entirely possible and I acknowledged it in my post! I was mostly asking for evidence (and, I admit, expressing some skepticism).
> Most ideas that became big weren't built from the get go with money as the end goal
Agreed! To be honest, I'm more interested in the viable business stage than in the "two guys in a dorm" stage. I assume the people who built the first TV weren't all that interested in making tons of money either. But you have a point.
Users are in no way the product, and for people to keep saying that is grossly misrepresenting the business model and puts all sorts of weird ideas into people’s heads.
Unless you are being bought and sold you are not a product. There are people in this world who ARE products, and we should be doing everything we can to liberate them.
So, if facebook collectes such intimate detail about a person and not only made it known to third parties but used that information to manipulate the person,then I would it is that person who is being traded.
Who can I claim to be without my private life,secret thoughts,desires and my identity itself? Even 19th century american slaves had some private life and kept information about themselves secret from the slave masters (of course I am not comparing their hardship,but the small privacy they had) and they were literally sold at markets.
The grand trick of the modern economy is that they have consumer behavioral psychology figured out: convince them they made the choice all on their own and take away as much of their intangible freedoms and possesions as you can -- "if you can't touch it, it isn't real"
And even if was, that stuff is basically data exhaust that is collected from usage of a platform they own. By using the platform you have made the choice to give up some of this data all on your own. But that’s not what they do. Their product is selling ad space.
You yourself are still not being sold.
The advertisers are the consumers and the ability to target the consumer is the product.
Look at it this way, an actor or a singer sells himself when he works,the entertainment industry sells actors to consumers. In the same way facebook and google sell their users to advertisers.
You are a product, in the same way that celebrities are products.
A billboard by a highway doesn’t mean that traffic is now the product. You’re selling placement.