2019年2月13日 星期三

Should Facebook and Google pay you a ‘data dividend’?

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019
Should Facebook and Google pay you a 'data dividend'?
By Owen Thomas
Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press
Welcome back to Tech Chronicle. Your decision to subscribe to this fine newsletter will surely pay dividends.
What are you worth?
Gov. Gavin Newsom, the viscidly coiffed ruler of Silicon Valley and its lesser Californian principalities, declared his intention Tuesday in his first State of the State address to tax the money gushers of tech and distribute their wealth to the less digitally fortunate. Huzzah!
Chronicle senior political writer Joe Garofoli flagged this passage in Newsom's address for me:
"California is proud to be home to technology companies determined to change the world. But companies that make billions of dollars collecting, curating and monetizing our personal data have a duty to protect it. Consumers have a right to know and control how their data is being used. I applaud this Legislature for passing the first-in-the-nation digital privacy law last year. But California's consumers should also be able to share in the wealth that is created from their data. And so I've asked my team to develop a proposal for a new Data Dividend for Californians, because we recognize that your data has value and it belongs to you."
Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle
It's a superficially daring gambit. (The proposal, that is, not Newsom's hair.) But if it is meant as anything besides a political bargaining chip to get Facebook and Google to come crawling to Sacramento with concessions, it's sure to prove to be all data, no center.
This notion of paying people for their data isn't new. One of the worst business models from the dot-com boom was "pay to surf," employed by companies that explicitly paid internet users for their time and attention. AllAdvantage, a Hayward company, had to yank its initial public offering and auction off its assets after blowing through millions of dollars.
The difference now is that the value of data is more certain — internet advertising was nascent 20 years ago, and it was far from clear what a user's attention was worth — and the source of the putative dividends is not speculative venture cash but the tall billions Facebook and Google stack up every quarter selling ads.
Neither company responded to an inquiry about Newsom's proposal. But Facebook helpfully tots up exactly how much money it makes per user. Last year, it was $109.77 in the U.S. and Canada. Even a tenth of that would buy you a couple of Starbucks coffees.
But before you start dreaming of gingerbread lattes, let's consider exactly what Newsom is proposing.
Michael Macor / The Chronicle
When I post a photo of Ramona the Love Terrier on Instagram (which Facebook owns), Facebook is getting the bits and bytes that make up a video of my Jack Russell twirling a ball in the air and spinning to catch it. (As data goes, that's priceless.) But Facebook isn't selling that. It's selling my attention, showing me an ad as I scroll through the feed.
Users confuse the two, argues Antonio García Martínez, a former Facebook product manager and author of the 2016 tech tell-all "Chaos Monkeys."
"Their life data — their photos, their messages — they think that that's being pimped out," he said. "All of those life experiences, all that data you're sharing, is completely ancillary to anything marketers are doing."
García Martínez should know: He helped build some of Facebook's hugely profitable ad systems. Most of the data that advertisers use on Facebook are things they collected on their own, not Facebook's universe of shares and likes and posts. He offered the example of BMW detecting that you once browsed a page on the BMW USA website, and then funneling that information into Facebook's ad machine to show you an ad.
Whose data is that? Yours? BMW's? Facebook's? Delve into the reality of how online ads are bought and sold, and you realize that it's far more complex than saying your data generated so many dollars in revenue and you deserve a cut. Your data actually isn't that valuable. Your attention is, and it's easily taken away, as the #deletefacebook movement has suggested.
García Martínez points out that tentacular data swappers like Acxiom and Experian make a thriving business providing your personal information to retailers and other marketers, but because they don't make an app on your phone, they fly under the radar.
So, Gov. Newsom: By all means, have your team study this. It will take months to report back what should be obvious to anyone who has an inkling of how online data juggernauts operate: If you want Facebook and Google to pay more to ameliorate the social ills they cause, just raise their taxes. That seems easier.
— Owen Thomas (othomas@sfchronicle.com)
Quote of the week
"I was your favorite male lesbian for a while until Marc Benioff showed up and displaced me." — Early Facebook investor Roger McNamee, trying to relate to Recode interviewer Kara Swisher in a podcast about his new book "Zucked"
Coming up
Cisco earnings are Wednesday, and Nvidia Thursday. Both could give a picture of how the broader global economy is performing.
What I'm reading
Medium, Ev Williams' richly funded save-journalism crusade, has bought local San Francisco online magazine Bold Italic, Melia Russell reports. (San Francisco Chronicle)
Maybe it's all the PG&E bankruptcy filings I've been downloading, but Adam Liptak's look at why courts charge fees for public documents caught my eye. (New York Times)
J.D. Morris looks at how tariffs and other headwinds are causing a drop in California's solar jobs. (San Francisco Chronicle)
How often does DoorDash subsidize couriers' pay with customer tips? Sean Captain delves into some revealing statistics. (Fast Company)

Tech Chronicle is a thrice-weekly newsletter from Owen Thomas, The Chronicle's business editor, and the rest of the tech team. Follow along on Twitter: @techchronicle and Instagram: @techchronicle

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