Facebook as a Colonial Power?

I came across this clever image today, comparing Julian Assange of WikiLeaks and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. Of course I came across it on Facebook!

On the left Assange says, “I give private information on corporations to you for free, and I am a villain.”

On the right Zuckerberg goes, “I give your private information to corporations for money, and I am Man of the Year.”

Right before that striking comparison, I had seen this clever cartoon.

The cartoon reads, “How about a compromise? We keep the land, the mineral rights, natural resources, fishing, and timber, and we’ll acknowledge you as the traditional owners of it.”

I can’t help but reflect that Facebook policy is rather like colonial policy. We’re traditional owners of our information, they just get to keep all the rights and sell it as they want.

Lots of internet companies seem to be working this way. Facebook’s approach to privacy – of course you have it, but we get to own and distribute the resulting information – isn’t that different from Apple’s new ibook author software – you create it, but if you use our software to publish it, we effectively own it. But, hey, your name is on it!

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12 Responses to Facebook as a Colonial Power?

  1. Nice observation! It does occur to me though that publishers have (by and large) always worked that way with authors’ intellectual property: Facebook etc just represent the extension of that model to the masses.
    (I suppose one difference is that FB info is “private” whereas traditional authors always intended their work to be public … though I never think of stuff I put on FB as truly private, not when any of almost 300 friends – some of whom are barely acquaintances – could see it.)
    I mean look at traditional academic publishers for goodness sake: you write the entire article (with feedback from unpaid peer reviewers and an action editor who receives token payments, if any), we’ll pay you nothing, sit on it for months, give you some hassle about image quality, then finally print it in a journal and charge public bodies a fortune for it so we can make a 30% margin. Makes Facebook look positively benign by comparison!

    • daniel.lende says:

      I agree. Facebook’s capitalist model builds off of previous ones, no doubt about that. But I was struck by the idea of the internet/social media as a new space, and how Facebook is capturing that space in ways that look quite similar to previous power/ideology/socioeconomic models.
      Which is why the open access movement, and the view of the internet as a space, are really interesting. Because I don’t just want to give away my intellectual property in the same way as always; or, in the case of Facebook, to see that they are grabbing my information and selling the information, while still saying I control my privacy property. It’s a land grab as information grab…

  2. Kevin Birth says:

    It is more of a postcolonial power than a colonial power. Its power is not concentrated the way that the power of a colonizer is, and consequently, there is no easy way to overthrow Facebook and achieve independence. It is not only postcolonial in the way in which it obtains intellectual property, but also in the way in which it shapes the creation of such property. In this fashion, it is like other subtle tools that shape behavior and thought transculturally, if not panculturally–tools such as the Gregorian calendar, the clock, and the QWERTY keyboard. Indeed, in its own strange way, Facebook works hand-in-hand with many of these technologies for shaping experience and is a force behind their increasing power in our world.

  3. Today I received Google’s new policies ( http://www.google.com/policies/ ) to come into effect March 1st. Further evidence of the colonization of the Internet!

  4. Kurt says:

    In the end each of us decides what information they share on Facebook, Google & the rest, and so we still control that information. I share a lot however if I notice anything unpleasant thatthose companies dowith it, I investigate and change things.
    I disagree with your statement that larger corporations have control, working for a $3,6B one, I know that not to be true. Unfortunately not enough people realize or can be bothered to take that control.

  5. Colonization is a good analogy here. First the white trader came and traded steel knifes for beaver pelts; and then they traded whiskey for the pelts, and finally they charges the natives for the pelts.

    Colonial corporations, such as Facebook, Google and other advertising agencies, should be careful what they wish for. SOPA , if properly applied, would or might require that the colonial corporation pay a royalty to everyone whose name, image or information is used in their promotions. This is our intellectual property which they are mining for their profit..

    Why should Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson’s estate, Jackie Smith, or any other “star” get royalties for their image. Meanwhile the ordinary Joe and Jean will be charged for or expected to give away their information for free. Such use by the corporations, I don’t believe, is covered by FAIR USE.

    Facebook, Google, etc. do provide an advertising service. They don’t produce a product. The members produce the product. These colonizing corporations are now giving us the whiskey for our information, soon they will be charging us for our own information.

    Just like a single play of a Lady Gaga song on commercial media calls for the media outlet to make a royalty payment. Under a fair version of SOPA, we, as members, would have a right to be compensated if our image and data are used to produce profit for the colonizing corporation.

  6. Kurt says:

    Unlike the natives though we now have more wisdom (at least some of us) and choice. The day Google, Facebook or any other company starts charging money for the data we created, is the day we are switching over to another company.
    You do raise a fair point about stars vs. the unknown people and I will make sure I charge money for putting my image on your weblog if it should appear. 😉

  7. @ Kurt

    If you put your image on my site maybe I should charge you for the use of my site as advertising space. If I use your image to promote (make money) my site, then I guess that I should pay you a royalty.

    Now the question is, since I have placed Neuroanthropology’s link on my site — is this fair use, infringement, charity, good business, or whatever? And, since you solicited a comment, shouldn’t you pay me a consulting fee? :)

    As a business consultant, I have found that in some cases, when a client has sought to sell their business, the only value the buyer sees and wants to buy is the customer list.

    In the case of Facebook et al, they have flipped their relationship with their members from the customers/clients of their service which they needed to become a viable service organizations to defining the client as a commodity to be packaged (toxic assets?) and sold to the highest bidder .

    The point here is that this is a very complex issue about the nature of intellectual property, What is it? Who owns it? How is ownership established? And How can ownership really be enforced?,

    • Kurt says:

      That was a great response Barry, very funny. Some other events the past week made me think some more about your post. One of them was a link to this post about Social Media’s Death Policies: http://thereasoner.com/articles/social-media-policies-when-you-die

      Having a few of my Facebook friends who sadly have passed away, it made me realize that we haven’t given this a lot of thought have we? On the one hand I can see that if it is someone really close to me, I would like to protect the information, especially from corporate BS and advertisement. However, at the same time, somehow I feel that keeping that social part of that person online and available to others is a way of remembering that person. I revisited the profiles of my dear friends I mentioned earlier and somehow it was nice to see their history. Stopped and knowing that nothing else is coming, it was a weird and yet somehow nice way of remembering lost friends.

      Thanks for the post, food for a lot of thought.


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