You might be forgiven to think tech companies like Google are exclusively engaged in the products they produce, be it software or hardware. Their bottom line would suggest otherwise.
Google, for instance, invests heavily in their data analytics capabilities. That’s because, the products they create for their user's consumption are a means with which they mine data about their most valuable product- you.
When you use free software from any of the tech companies that has a social aspect to their business model, the currency you return is habitual data. This company acts as a middleman between advertisers and you in that they package you according to varying criteria by the thousands and sell you as products in the form of attention span. If you've ever seen an online advert using a regular personal device, you've been successfully mined.
It is very important to point out that there is inherently nothing wrong with this business model. These products are not built for the sole purpose of extracting as much information from the user to analyse and make a profit, this is a by-product of their core operations-
creating powerful tools to drive humanity towards meaningful contributions in a convenient manner. Remember Google's motto? That's not to say the process doesn’t have it’s drawbacks.
The finances is an obvious one: There is a lot of wealth in how much advertisers value your personal data. In 2015, Google made $75 billion in annual earnings. That's the projected value of Kenya's GDP this year. With around four billion active users, that would equate to just under $19 Google makes per user. Logic would suggest that since Google is making billions off personal data, the users are entitled to some form of gratuity.
The data these companies collect is neither your personal or private property, not anymore for any of us who digitally signed away our rights to it when accepting Terms and Conditions. Your data is owned and stored on the servers of the company that provided you with their free service. For most people, this isn’t a travesty, because, this data is useless to you in it’s current form. You had no idea of its value before the likes of Google came along. In fact, these company’s reach of the internet is so wide, you may not need to sign up at all to have a profile built in your stead where the ore of wealth you’ve ceded to them is extracted, refined by combining it with the data of other users creating their own finished product sold to the highest bidder. What you get in return are wonderful applications and services which would have otherwise cost you subscription fees.
The benefits of having these companies services at our disposal can not be argued. Millions of people are in touch, oppressive regimes are overthrown, resources are pooled and humanity is explored further. While Facebook is actively seeking ways to connect the next billion it is important for everyone’s sake, for us embrace a new model that reflects the diversity amongst these users, one that isn’t dictated by an algorithm.
Governments have their obvious flaws, but in the 21st century they are the first line of defense in the case for protecting people’s interestes against overarching monopolies. If, instead of your data being owned and stored on servers by tech companies, was stored in a centralised data bank with the oversight and scrutiny of judiciary and democratic structures, the dynamic of users being products returns to users being the customers.
This data bank would have the responsibility of storing your data, such that should any corporation or government want to utilise it, they would facilitate payments and distribute them to users. To protect their users data, no raw data would be exchanged. Instead, those purchasing the data would have to be specific about its intended use by sending a code snippet which the bank would complete and run locally before returning the generated code.
Value would be shifted from the raw data that users produce to the code snippets that the bank generates instead and a completely new economic model is enabled. With a data bank system in combination with blockchain technology, this new economy would allow many micro payments on activities a user’s complete digital output, irrespective of which platform they choose. Imagine being paid for your Tweet going viral! Focus shifts from gathering the vast amounts of data and enables companies to focus on their core business. Should these companies seek a subscription fee from their users, the bank could facilitate that payment and any tax obligations associated therein. The wealth is spread more evenly creating an equitable 21st century data driven economy.
Social effects are guaranteed to be an independent thought topic. What’s certain is for the many would participate in national affairs as they would have a stake in how their elected officials engage with private entities. The rapport built is invaluable to a harmonious nation state. It could also act as a way in which the Universal Basic Income could be introduced allowing billions to become banked, grow economies and further reduce poverty. The Orwellian state can only come from the model we have now. [Governments and tech companies] seem to be engaged in hostilities over our information. Our distrust of government has forced us to adopt undemocratic tech companies as our own, when they are just that, companies. In the current manner, neither of these adversaries is operating at the behest of the citizens it serves.
We have the opportunity to skirt the fine line between an authoritarian and permissive we’ve limited ourselves to. The wealth of any nation is in the jurisdiction of its resources by its most important resource, the people. This model would be the best gift to those who have yet to subject themselves to any form of Terms and Conditions.