Users logged into Facebook this week to find various messages from the company telling them of changes in the way they will share their information. While the company frames all of this as putting users in “control” of their own data, it strikes me that this is more about empowering the company than the users. Users are given more opportunity to share more information with more people, creating more of the data that Facebook profits from.
Whether you care if Facebook profits from all of this or not, it is important to identify the rhetorical strategy: to accumulate more data that Facebook ultimately controls and owns by telling its users that they are increasingly in control.
As CEO Mark Zuckerberg states that you have more control of your data, he is simultaneously allowing you to share more by changing the defaults that users rarely deviate from. Now more information such as as your name, profile picture, gender, networks, friend list, and any pages you are a fan of are publicly available to anyone on the Internet rather than just with your friends. See: Facebook’s Privacy Upgrade Recommends I Be Less Private. Further, Zuckerberg is not mentioning that he still owns this data and is poised to profit from it.
Unlike other posts on this topic, this is not an argument that Facebook dupes us into sharing too much. The mass exhibitionism and voyeurism in our current moment runs much too deep -often contrary to capitalist goals. Instead, one should simply read Facebook’s insidious message of “empowerment” with a skeptical eye.
Finally, we can describe this strategy as an outcome of the new more weightless prosumer capitalism. Prosumer because we simultaneously consume and produce nearly all of the content on Facebook. Weightless (as I’ve previously argued for, using Bauman’s terms) because we-the-laborers are unpaid and are given the product for free. Thus, capitalism is hardly distinguishable as such, increasingly hidden by the rhetoric of user-empowerment. Facebook is letting our mass exhibitionism spread, lubricating social interactions as well as they can, and cashing in on the data we supposedly “control”. ~nathan
The New Facebook Privacy Settings: A How-To
Secrecy and New Religious Movements: Concealment, Surveillance, and Privacy in a New Age of Information
Recently, this blog has focused on the labor of the crowds. I have posted that the “prosumers of the world should unite” and have continued to write on the topic. Bmckernan expertly handled the topic when discussing “light” capitalism and more recently pj.rey convincingly demonstrated that prosumption is a structural force at play in the death of old media. This post is driven by the recent announcement that Facebook, now nearly the size of the United States, has become profitable (or “cash flow positive“). This re-ignites the debate around companies profiting from increasingly personal and intimate information about ourselves and our lives.
As prosumers on Facebook (that is, we both produce and consume the content on the site), we display ourselves and our socializing with others, and it is precisely this data, this digital goldmine, that Facebook leverages for profit. Another trend of intimate data being shared has to do with “geotagging” and “location awareness” tools.
Location awerness simply refers to tools -often utilizing “smart” mobile phones that are GPS-enabled and always in our pockets- that track and display one’s geographic location. The Loopt iPhone app does just this by keeping track of where the user is and helping them share the information with others. Yahoo has the Fire Eagle service, Google has Google Latitude, and Twitter has also begun to “geotag” tweets with their geographical location. Given these technologies, we can share our past and current geographical locations with ourselves and others by plotting them on maps, posting them as our Facebook or Twitter statuses and so on.
In these examples, we see that the very titans of Web 2.0 capitalism are set to profit (or at least try to) from another intimate source of data: where one is physically located at any given moment. The degree to which these tools become ubiquitous is the degree to which our very lives become a source of ‘intimate profit’. To this point, and I’ll leave with a question to tackle in a later post: does it matter that companies profit from increasingly intimate user-data regarding their self/their socializing/their very location if users find these tools useful? ~nathan
Facebook Makes Money, Tops 300 Million Users
The Intersecting Roles of Consumer and Producer: A Critical Perspective on Co-production, Co-creation and Prosumption
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A few months ago, Sociology Lens news editor Nathan Jurgenson posted an intriguing article entitled “Facebook, the transumer, and liquid capitalism.” Among the interesting concepts that Jurgenson addresses and illuminates include Bauman’s notion of “light” or “weightless” capitalism as well as “prosumers.” Some recent events in American mass media and popular culture further illustrate these significant insights.
by nathan jurgenson
Google announced that its new operating system, Chrome OS, will be free of charge. Further, it is designed to operate in the “cloud,” meaning that most of its functionality will exist online, using internet applications like GMail and Google Documents instead of programs installed on a hard drive (as Windows does). The free cloud-based operating system is designed to run on smaller, lighter “netbooks” -a bright spot in the computer market in these tough economic times. I previously wrote about the transumer and virtual goods as evidence of Zygmunt Bauman’s liquidity thesis that exchange online is following a lighter and more fluid path. These developments further underscore the relevancy of Bauman’s thinking, and beg the question: is the digital economy approaching a sort of ‘weightless capitalism’?
Chris Anderson’s new book, Free, tackles just this sort of emergent business trend online. The marginal cost to produce digital items approaches zero because microprocessing, storage and bandwidth are increasingly cheaper. Another factor that applies to many Web 2.0 companies is that much of the content production is out-sourced to the consumers. That is, we are the prosumers of Facebook because we are simultaneously the producers and consumers of it. The result is that we do not have to directly pay to use Google’s services, or for things like Facebook, Flickr, Yelp and so on.
When products are free and labor is often done without pay, we have near-weightless capitalism.