Revenge of the EULA Reader: Meta Me in a Bubble Edition

This morning I read this great post from an artist who actually read the Pinterest EULA. I linked to her article in Scientific American because I want to make sure she gets credit for what she wrote by people reading from her page - or as she may say, the kind of thing she is afraid will not happen by virtue of the Pinterest EULA. I don't want to hold Pinterest as only the company in the world who sticks stuff like this in EULAs. In fact, I wrote about problems with other EULAs before my 23 and me post is by far the most popular post I ever wrote. I venture to say more people read my post about the 23 and me EULA then actually read the 23 and me EULA. EULAs, in the sense they are being used by the Pinterests, Facebooks, Googles and Linked ins of the world, are legal fiction granting the drafters the rights to use our data the way they want to use it today and how they may use it in the future. I saw legal fiction not just because there is not a single word in any of the multi thousand word agreements in the "signer's" favor, but because the companies providing the documents know no one reads them. Hence the beauty of the Scientific American post by an artist and not a lawyer. How the world will change if people start reading and perhaps even objecting to the agreements.

These sites and services argue our data is collected in consideration of services provided for free under the EULA. But does this argument really hold up? If the services are being provided in exchange for our data, the services are not free. The services cost our data. We are paying for services by providing our data. While we can be certain our data is appreciating in value with each click we make - Facebook has every single click I made since I signed up and keeps collecting them - and each advance in data mining, we cannot be certain of the services, or accountability for break down, in the services provided. Finally how do we know the value of the services is commensurate with the value of the data being provided? Time for the radical proposal. What would happen if I actually owned my data?

We are bordering on a sci fi concept here, but each one of us is creating value unique to us in the form of a "meta me" and we are not benefiting. There are things we do every single day that has value to ourselves, our community and even sponsors, and others are aggregating us into a pool and slicing and dicing us into the equivalent of securities derivatives for resale. We, the owners, the creators see no value. I should own not only my data, but the metadata that defines me. If I create a profile of myself - I am not saying virtual because the profile of my clicks and purchases is very real - that profile is no less mine than the compilation of the words in this post. The choices I make on line, coupled with my identity are a valuable creation. No stronger evidence exists than the payment Google receives by selling my data to sponsors. Even though my data is more valuable to certain sponsors than other people's data, we all get the same services. I appreciate Google telling me where I can find things on the web and Facebook letting me keep in touch with friends but when did I decide they should be able to keep all of the profits they make selling meta me? Wouldn't it be great if we could put a bubble around our data and make purchasing decisions on line the same way we make purchasing decisions in the real world.

When purchasing moved on line we disintermediated the middle men. Travel agents and insurance brokers fell. Next we ate the record executives and ad sales guys. The funny thing is the disintermediators like Google did such a good job of disintermediation that they grew into the intermediaries. Google's first argument to sponsors was TV and Radio are only thinking they are giving you and audience. We are accountable and can track clicks. Sure they try to stomp out click farms and other forms of fraud, but when I see the same ad for an elliptical coming up on every web page just because I clicked on a review page six months ago is it really an effective use of the advertisers' money? The advertiser would be much better off going directly to me, rather than buying my anonymized data as part of the derivative sold by Google. It is time for Google and Facebook to become the broker, rather than the owner.

If I put meta me in a bubble I would be able to determine the value of my data. Some opportunities are easy to imagine. I can opt into a network If I wanted to watch purchase a tv show in iTunes or watch a premium show on Hulu, a notification may pop up telling me to put away my wallet because Coke would like to buy my show for me. That would be nice. They would not even have to show me the commercial.
I would feel good about them already. Now to the tricky stuff. Why can't I opt into Facebook or Google services in exchange for a cut in the revenue? They have infrastructure costs to cover and there is value in the brokerage service of finding the best paying customer for may particular data, but what about the profit. They would not be in business if there was not a profit. I want some of that. I might not feel so bad about the use of my data I get a monthly statement, the same way an adsense or admob user does, indicating the value of my data to Google. I might also have the market information to know the value of my data and knowingly determine whether the services I receive, like gmail or google voice, are a valuable enough for me to let them leverage the value of meta me.


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