Dollars for Data

Do you ever stop to think about how much data is being collected on you daily by everyone from Google to your bank? Did you ever give them permission to do so? Well, in some cases you may have via the checkbox at that massive ‘Terms of Service’ document that no one reads, but the reality is that many companies were/are collecting data even without those, and sharing and selling it as well, in addition to analyzing it, primarily just to sell you product or keep you on the platform longer.

Whether they can ethically do all this, or should be doing it, is a massive discussion. That aside, many people are proposing that if large corporations are going to essentially use us individuals as data collection points – we should get paid for it.

Livia Gershon writes in her article We All Work for Facebook:

Writing in the Harvard Business Review with Jaron Lanier, a prominent critic of social media, Weyl argues that if Americans were paid for our data, many would make $500 to $1,000 a year the way things stand now (an estimate that the authors believe is low). If AI were to grow to represent 10 percent of the U.S. economy, Weyl and Lanier add, that amount could rise to $20,000 for an average family of four—though in that information economy, we’d all pay a little more for the services we use.

As a family of 6, I like that action. If we’re all gonna be digital zombies, lets at least pull down a decent salary while we do it.

The Rise of Digital Unions

Gershon notes that the best way to start demanding compensation from companies is for individuals to band together and deny the companies that which they’re seeking, until demands are met – to form unions.

Digital labor rights, like any labor rights, depend on workers’ ability to organize in pursuit of their interests. The idea of demanding pay for data depends on internet users coming together in something like a labor union or a craft guild, bargaining with data buyers and using strike threats to win contracts. Skilled translators or people with a specific medical condition might band together based on their knowledge of the value that their data could provide. Weyl suggested to me that users start with Wikipedia, since it has its own complicated, semi-democratic governance system.

At the end of his book, Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari presents the viewpoint that moving into the future, our society can take one of two paths; one that is dominated and driven by data or one that is founded and continues on a humanist philosophy. It would seem that unless we prefer the former, humans must come together to become more than just ‘cogs in the machine.’

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