What Price For Privacy?

Category: 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.

privacy price tag

“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.

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Most recent comments on "What Price For Privacy?"

Posted by:

Bob Kinsler
01 May 2018

Maybe it is my knowledge of the marketing area but with the idea of trying to figure out the future and the next trend of what customers want in those regions that Facebook covers any amount that businesses pay to get it would pay for the privacy of the individual.

Posted by:

01 May 2018

*Let us, for a brief moment, make the assumption that the 'customer' is truly the 'product' that such companies make their profits from.
*But, at the same time, let us also pretend that we all are smart-products, like our smartphones and our smart-apps.
You probably are not feeling me yet and wondering where those above two asterisks are attempting to get at.
I, for one, don't feel as if I was a flapping and large-eared Dumbo type. Neither is coy Wozniak!
He knows EXACTLY what each customer is worth. He is playing that game some call 'deflecting'. Apple's business plan maybe radically different than that question he is asking his competitors. If you simply query any search engine, the worth of Apple and then ask the same query, for the Google/Alphabet; you'd find out that they are BOTH hovering at or near ONE TRILLION DOLLARS.
Do you feel me yet?

Posted by:

01 May 2018

Randio, et. al., CURRENT value is an accumulation of capital over time. It's not about 10^12 dollars over the number of customers; it's the dollars over number of customers over TIME -- MINUS interest accumulated (and perhaps reinvested) since you started using the service: ([$/C]/t)- I. And, heck, we might as well deduct profit from acquisitions of other companies for their FUTURE value as well . . . So we aren't worth as much as we think we are - in fact, we are worth FAR less than we'd like to think we were.

If we are just talking about what you are worth chemically, sadly, in MY life time I have only doubled my worth - I'm now worth about $1us. (cite: thoughtco.com).

Like Doc Bob says: even a meta analysis (a study of studies) would probably not even work. Thus, I guess we are with out a value - either valueless, or priceless. (though they may seem to be opposite in meaning).

Posted by:

01 May 2018

Facebook has no real competitor. Sure, Instagram, Twitter, google1+, etc overlap with small portions of what they do. But in reality they have no competitor.

Build a competitive media platform, and FB would start treating us better. I would gladly pay $50 per year for the services I get from FB to have it not target me, not guess at what I want to see, etc. I use FB as a communications tool and to (try) to keep up with friends who I don't see often. That's all a competitor would need. An electronic bulletin board.

Posted by:

01 May 2018

... and so all those ads I see from Amazon aren't related to the same issue? Yes, the Genie's out of the bottle and I don't think even an act of Congress could put it back. Interested in moving "off the grid" anyone?

Posted by:

Godfrey Daniels
01 May 2018

This is why I use avatars on Facebook, jive addresses and emails for email opinion polls, etc. Gotta use chaff wherever you can!

Posted by:

01 May 2018

So, how about a campaign to get FB to offer a premium membership where they would guarantee not to exploit your data... for a fee? It would get them off the hook as they could claim it's giving you a real choice without compromising their business, and give users the possibility of remaining on the biggest soc-net without getting screwed... ...or am I just being naive?

Posted by:

01 May 2018

I know for a fact that money don't grow on trees.
I also know for a fact that a billion = 10^9.
But neither of those facts have anything to do with the price of rice in China or elsewhere!

Posted by:

01 May 2018

As a follow-up to my earlier comment, I am going to investigate https://www.infinitysn.com/ and https://mewe.com/
I've never heard of them, but they are both advertising themselves as not targeting or selling your data. But nothing is free, so I need to see how they make money.

Posted by:

01 May 2018

@Daniel: The reason that I suggest a premium membership scheme for FB is that they are already the biggest soc-net — any competitor has an uphill task to reach the point where they can put themselves forward as a credible alternative. For FB to offer their own alternative model and allow those paying for a premium product to remain in contact with friends & family, irrespective of what sort of account they hold, should suit both FB and their users.

Posted by:

02 May 2018

Its my info that they are collecting and selling. Maybe they all should be paying me what it worth to them since I don't give them permission to sell my info.

Posted by:

02 May 2018

Even if you could pay FACEFFRAUD a fee not to target you would you really trust them? I certainly would not.

I don't have FACEFRAUD, never had, never will, because I wouldn't even give ZuckerScammer the pleasure of an extra account, even if it's fake.

Posted by:

02 May 2018

Yeah, just an idea, probably naive. I've never done FB either - I don't trust them.

Posted by:

02 May 2018

Let's say around 1950 you walk into your local grocery store. The owner knows you like fruit because you have shopped there before, he suggests that they have a new variety for you to try. He has also mentioned to a hardware owner that you mentioned you might start a garden, so when you go into the hardware store, the owner mentions that he has some new gardening tools.
The only way this is different is the size of the neighborhood.
The part I object to is the other information, SS#, CC info, etc.

Posted by:

Top Squirrel
02 May 2018

I don't agree that Dave's example of the 1950s fruit store encounter is comparable to today, size of the neighborhood notwithstanding.
1) The initial exchange is a personal one-on-one interaction with somebody you know, not something on an electronic record that hundreds of people you don't know can access. If you walked into a store and somebody you don't know greeted you by name and showed knowledge of what you bought before, you may think, "I wonder what else they know." Chilling, no?
2) I'd object to the fruit market owner talking about me behind my back to the hardware store owner, but I'd be livid if I knew neither of them and the exchange occurred without my consent.
3) It's not just the size of the neighborhood but whether it's a real neighborhood or a database. And I'd wonder who else I don't know can learn all this and what else do they know?
The "other" information merely facilitates the spread of information they shouldn't have to begin with. It's the key to the rest of your life. The information may be innocuous but it's the principle that bothers me.
What else do they know? Think about it.

Posted by:

03 May 2018

Thank you for those two links for alternatives to Facebook. I consider myself to be socially inept but I plan to submit those two links you provided to my acquaintances who may otherwise may wish to cut ties with Facebook but still want to keep in touch with their own acquaintances!

Posted by:

top squirrel
03 May 2018

You can still do a lot to protect your privacy.
Who says you need Facebook to exist? What did you do before 2004?
Buy things with cash.
Never fill out surveys or get loyalty cards.
Avoid credit cards. I've never had one and here I am.
Zuckerberg said in Senate testimony you have control over all your FB data. It probably is hard to erase it but I'll bet there is a YouTube site that tells you how.
Speaking of YouTube, I accessed my Google account and all they had was a list of classical music pieces I heard via YouTube in the last 10 years. And now they have nothing. (Hint: "Pause" means "erase.")
I use DuckDuckGo as my search engine because it does not keep a record of my searches.
Refuse to give DOB, SSN and the like to entities that don't really need it for anything legitimate.
Keep a nonpublished phone number and don't give it out to companies.
Don't use credit. If I don't have the cash I won't buy something I want until I do.
Do you really need a smartphone?
Do you really need Facebook? I have never had a FB account and I'm still alive. The very act of NOT having an account saves you so much trouble!
Privacy is challenged, not defeated. There is a great deal you can do. Unless, that is, you are willing to sell your personhood for a little convenience.
And, no, you don't have to give up computers. Or telephones or TVs. Or cars, appliances or air conditioning. You pick what you like of technology and let the rest go.

Posted by:

09 May 2018

Lol why is everyone all the sudden concerned with facebook years after Snowden revealed what he had. I think that everyone expects their data to be protected by default.

I would recommend Full disk encryption and VPN for ur tcp/ip

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