Privacy: An Easy Fix Mark Zuckerberg Can Make to Facebook Right Now

(Hey. I’m the author of “Privacy: And How We Get It Back” from Curious Reads. You can buy the book for less than your usual trip to Starbucks here.)

Some of you might have heard, but if you haven’t, Mark Zuckerberg’s goal this year is to fix Facebook. That’s excellent news … if he (and the company) are serious about it.

But my question is this: Will Zuckerberg and Facebook do the one thing they need to do to fix the platform and solve (most) of its problems?

I don’t know. I’m an optimist, but a decade of researching that company, talking to people who work there, and just observing their behavior doesn’t give me much hope.

Blah blah blah. You’re wondering what the easy fix is. It’s this:

Compensate Facebook users for their data and contributions to the platform.

We’re not talking about a lot of money here, maybe less than a dollar a day, but if you post photos, answer their questions about locations you’ve visited, or do much of anything else on that platform, you’re providing the company with valuable information. Information they can use to improve their software and their services for others.

So, don’t think your contributions to Facebook, or any other platform, or meaningless. They’re not. At the very least you’re training their AI software for them.

In “Privacy,” I suggest Facebook pay their users an annual license. Let’s say $365 or a $1 a day.

You might have read studies suggesting that money doesn’t motivate people to do things. This is only true after a certain amount of money has been reached.

You might have also heard that money is a lousy incentive to give employees, volunteers,, students, ect. to motivate them, but we’re not talking about a lot of money here.

We’re also not talking about incentivizing the people who already work for you (as one example) to work harder.

What I’m saying here is that your data has value. Maybe not a lot, but over the long term, those pennies, quarters, and nickels do add up. Getting people to understand this is my challenge for 2018.

(Zuckerberg wants to fix his platform this year. I want to get you paid for using it.)

How does paying its user for their data fix Facebook?

Facebook’s business model right now is predatory. It’s based entirely on collecting (and buying) as much information on you as possible, and then positioning and re-selling that data to advertisers.

I don’t have anything against advertising. I’m one of those weirdos who look forward to watching commercials and gets mad when only the same few ads play during a program

(I’m looking at you, Lyft and Discover Los Angeles for Hulu’s “Runaways” show.)

But by compensating people for their data, you’re also paying them for their time, which makes Facebook worth visiting in the first place, which in turn makes it more valuable to advertisers because the QUALITY of the time spent on Facebook has now vastly improved. At least, in theory.

Now people are coming and contributing data with purpose, and hopefully, the utilization of blockchain technology can prevent people from abusing or gaming the system too much.

(Nothing is perfect. There’s always going to be people who want to game the system, but they’re not the majority of users.)

Advertisers don’t want to sell products to disinterested people. That’s a pretty accurate way to describe how most people use Facebook now. You go there, you get creeped on by the platform, and you see what your friends or family are doing, and then you go about your business.

Where does Facebook come up with the extra money to pay people? I’ve got good news for you. Most (not all!) advertising agencies and brands are dumb when it comes to how they allocate their advertising dollars. As long as the MBAs and other spreadsheet jockeys are making the decisions for both those parties, Facebook’s advertising dollars aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

That’s because MBAs don’t look at marketing as an investment, which it is. Instead, they see it as a cost. A cost they can justify and quantify to shareholders and stakeholders using Facebook’s metrics. Since most people, yes even in 2018, still think the Internet is magic.

If I was Facebook, and I knew the QUALITY of time my users were spending on my platform was now improved because they were getting compensated for their data, I would charge the advertisers and brands more. Facebook can do this by saying, “We’re seeing all sorts of improvement in our engagement metrics from time spent to objects interacted with” and you better believe advertisers and brands would pay them more money to reach those highly engaged users.

I know, this sounds insane, but trust me, this is how the advertising and marketing industry works in 2018. Nothing makes sense, but we’re all just going along with it because these sectors make up nearly 20% of America’s GDP, meaning a whole lot of money and jobs are on the line if someone rocks the boat too much.

That means Facebook will continue to make a ton of money in advertising. The good news for you is that Facebook could then take those extra billions and give them to you.

Or, and I know this is total hearsay but hear me out, let’s say you don’t want Facebook to pay you for your data. You should. Your data has value. You must be compensated for it. Facebook could give you an option where, instead of paying you, they give you an advertising-free experience when using their platform in exchange for a monthly fee.

Nothing is free. You know that. I know that. Younger generations (thank the flying spaghetti monster) are starting to realize that if you want a better Internet, you have to pay for it. A Facebook subscription fee might sound crazy to people my age who got hooked on Facebook in 2005 because it was only for my fellow college students, but today it’s not outrageous at all.

You pay for The New York Times. You pay for Netflix. You can pay for Facebook.

Especially if paying for Facebook removes all the creepiness and advertising.

You can have Facebook pay you in exchange for your data, or you can pay them in exchange for not being creeped on and enjoying a commercial-free Facebook experience.

Commercial-free Facebook means no invasion of privacy and no shady bullshit with other countries trying to swing elections. That sounds like an easy fix to me.

I don’t have all the answers, but I think this is a pretty damn good place to start the conversation on how to fix Facebook, don’t you?

Maybe I’m right. Maybe I’m wrong. You can let me know over at @BJMendelson.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/The White House Photostream