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Tag Archives: ownership

by nathan jurgenson

600px-wikipedia-logo1The very idea of Wikipedia -the open-source encyclopedia that anyone with an internet connection can edit- has sparked many discussions about knowledge construction, such as the politics behind truth, the social construction of knowledge, the tyranny of epistemic expertism or populism, and so on. In these discussions, the Encyclopedia Britannica is often posed as the antithesis to Wikipedia. So it came as big news earlier this year that the Encyclopedia Britannica, the model of old-school expertism, is going to begin to allow user-generated content.

Users will be able to write new content, which then goes to one of the thousands of paid Britannica editors to accept/edit/reject. Ideally, Britannica wants new edits to appear on their site within twenty minutes and are planned to be incorporated into subsequent print editions.

Outside of the debates regarding knowledge production mentioned above, there is another point to be made here: Britannica is a for-profit model in contrast to the not-for-profit status of Wikipedia. There has been no indication on the part of Britannica to pay users who make good edits. The underlying point is much the same as can be made regarding “our” free labor that we donate to Facebook: that, simply, Britannica is trying to improve its costly operation and its profit-potential with unpaid user-labor. Britannica has, in part, “crowdsourced” production to its consumers, highlighting the highly efficient business model of turning consumers into unpaid “prosumers” (those that consume that which they produce). A further discussion might begin with asking how has Jimmy Wales and Wikipedia also profited from the prosumer business model (for example, by “branding” the Wikipedia name)? This will be a topic for a later post. ~nathan

by nathan jurgenson

266px-facebooksvgAll over the news the past few days has been the outing of Facebook for changing its terms of service so that it could keep its user’s data for whatever it pleased for as long as it pleased. Even if the user deleted their account. Next came the vast uproar to this move followed by Facebook’s backtracking, arguing that the wording was harsher than what they would actually do in practice. Under continued pressure, however, Facebook backed down and reverted its terms of service to its previous state before this fiasco.

What the articles I link to above do not highlight is the fact that Facebook always had your data (if you are a user), and continues to have your data. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg says that users “own and control their information”, but what do the terms “own” and “control” mean with respect to Facebook and other similar sites?

The fact remains that Facebook is a company that still hoards its users’ personal information in an attempt to make money. They are building a database -a digital goldmine- from the entirety of one’s profile. In fact, just about everything one does on Facebook is a cell in this ever-expanding database of our lives, identities, and social networks. What real ‘control’ do we have? In what ways do we ‘own’ our data? And perhaps most importantly, in what ways does Facebook own our data? Facebook clearly owns the profit-potential from our online social networking labor. This is a point made before, and all of the events of the past couple of weeks have not changed this. ~nathan