Want to Heal the Internet? Ban All Collection of User Data

The social media/search giants have mastered the dark arts of obfuscating how they’re reaping billions of dollars in profits from monetizing user data, and lobbying technologically naive politicos to leave their vast skimming operations untouched.
I’ve been commenting on the cancerous disease that’s taken control of the Internet– what Shoshana Zuboff calls Surveillance Capitalism–for many years. Here is a selection of my commentaries:
800 Million Channels of Me (February 21, 2011)
If you’ve followed any of my analyses, it will come as no surprise that I’ve concluded the only way to restore the health of the Internet is to ban all collection of user data. That’s right, a 100% total ban on collecting any user data whatsoever.
We need to distinguish between customer/supplier data and user data. If a social media or other corporation wants to collect data from people who pay it money for services rendered, or from suppliers that it pays for services, then that process of data collection should be 100% transparent.
A customer pays for a service in cash; a user pays nothing. A company might want to collect data from its paying customers in order to upsell them or serve them better, and corporations who produce goods and services might want to collect data from the suppliers they pay.
Banning the collection of any data from users would of course destroy much of the revenues of companies such as Facebook, Google , Twitter, Instagram et al. It would also destroy the perverse incentives these corporations have institutionalized and excused as “garsh, you can’t stop the advance of technology,” as if their pursuit of Surveillance Capitalism were somehow an inevitable outcome of the Internet rather than a malign disease that’s undermining democracy and the free flow of diverse opinions and dissent that is the foundation of functional democracy.
By banning the collection of any and all user data, the social media/search giants would become quasi-public utilities, providing whatever service they offer for free and collecting revenues from other businesses for services such as display advertising–advertising which cannot be targeted at specific groups of users because there is no data on users to exploit.
If you think this is unrealistic, look at craigslist. Craigslist is free to individual users, and it doesn’t collect and sell user data to make billions of dollars. It sells adverts to businesses such as auto dealers and companies placing employment ads. These income streams are more than enough to fund the operational expenses and reap the owners a substantial profit.
Surveillance Capitalism is all about creating the illusion of privacy controls. The social media/search giants have mastered the dark arts of obfuscating how they’re reaping billions of dollars in profits from monetizing user data, and lobbying technologically naive politicos to leave their vast skimming operations untouched.
Keep it simple: ban all collection of user data–no exceptions. That will be easy to enforce and easy for all participants to understand.
My book Money and Work Unchained is now $6.95 for the Kindle ebook and $15 for the print edition. Read the first section for free in PDF format.

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