What Price For Privacy?
In a recent interview with the ABC News “Good Morning America” show, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak had a question for Facebook, with an implied “ditto” to Google, Twitter, Amazon, LinkedIn, and all the other online platforms that profit from the personal, private data they collect from and about the users of their “free” services. What did he ask, and what's the answer? Read on...
How Much Are You Worth? “It’s Complicated"
Pondering the tradeoff between "free" and "private," The Woz threw out this query: "I would like to know, is there a number (of dollars) that you will totally protect my privacy, not use my information for any advertising, any personally targeted stuff at all.?"
“What’s the price?," Wozniak continued. "I'd like to know that price. Oh my gosh, I might pay it if I knew the price. But I have a feeling the price is so outrageously high that people would instantly be shocked at how much Facebook is making off of them."
Leave it to The Woz to think outside of the box. This quiet character rarely speaks publicly; but when he does, heads snap around quickly in double-takes. He gets right to the nitty-gritty.
I was aghast to see the Associated Press article that reported on The Woz failed to make any attempt to clarify what each user is worth to Facebook. Then I tried to answer the question myself, and quickly learned why the AP did not go there.
“How much are you worth to Facebook” is a Google query with “About 250,000,000 results.” Yes, 250 million; I doubt that a team of researchers could do a meta-analysis of the top million in less than five years. Worse, the estimates these results offer are all over the map!
The Guardian newspaper said, in 2016, that Facebook’s revenues divided by the total number of its active users gives a worth per user of $14.92. The Washington Post ran the same numbers at the same time and came to the same conclusion. But it gets complicated when we break out revenues and users by geographic region.
US and Canada users are worth $54.16 per year to Facebook, about the annual cost of a good security suite such as Avast, Bitdefender, et. al. If Facebook would be willing to leave you alone for that price, it just might be worth paying. But a user in Europe is worth only $18.00/year to Facebook. An Asia/Pacific user is worth only $6.36, while “all the rest” of the world - mostly developing countries - is worth just $4.88/year. That’s a Walmart price, isn’t it?
Money Can't Buy Happiness (or Privacy)
Then there are more - imaginative - ways to estimate your worth to a tech company. An outfit named HowMuch.net decided to divide Google’s market capitalization by its published number of users, and came up with $182 as the average user’s worth to Google. That’s so wrong it’s worthy of an award for wrongness! “Market cap” is just the total value of stock in secondary markets like the NY Stock Exchange; the numbers have nothing to do with how much money you are worth to Google!
Everyone knows the old saying, "If you have to ask, you can’t afford it."
It really doesn’t matter what you are worth to Facebook, Google, Amazon, or any other single company. You cannot regain your privacy by paying just one of them. Unlike the good old Mafia, no tech giant is going to sell you “protection” against being hijacked by its competitors.
So if you want privacy, you had better pay them all. Even if that were possible, only people like The Woz could afford to do that. And what about all the information that's already been "shared" with marketers and other unknown third-parties? That toothpaste has been squeezed out of the tube, and you know what they say about getting it back in.
And of course, there are the wild cards: hacks and data breaches. It doesn't matter what promises any company makes regarding the personal information they collect, if it's not locked down. We learn of high-profile data breaches every week, exposing names, addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers, credit card and banking info, and detailed profiles of what you like, where you go, and what you buy.
Bottom line, there is no price you can pay to retain or regain your privacy in the digital age. Sorry, Woz.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below.
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 1 May 2018
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- What Price For Privacy? (Posted: 1 May 2018)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved