Is Facebook turning us into digital slaves?

  • We are uploading digital versions of ourselves into social media – we have different layers of existence now.
  • Those digital persons are like digital slaves, owned by the social media. Current IPRs are an important part of the digital shackles.
  • We will need digital human rights to do away with digital slavery.

Any science fiction fan will recognize the concept of uploading your personality into a computer or a network.

Indeed, this is supposed to be one of the ways in which we may attain immortality.

But, as is often the case with SF, reality is stranger than fiction.

The uploading of our personalities into the digital world has already started.

Anyone who has a Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Google+ account knows what I mean.

Part of you, of your identity, is online. Uploaded & digital.

Part of you exists only in Facebook, or any other social media. You now have different layers of existence, and some of those only exist on the Internet, through Facebook or some other social media system.

And, no matter what the social media tell you, it’s not free. And neither is your digital you free.

The social media business model is based on acquiring all of the digital, web 2.0 version of you, and then commercially exploiting it.

In a sense, by signing up a social media account, you become their digital slave. Voluntarily.

Because they can do with your digital person whatever they want. They can sell you, or your data, or your pictures, or whatever you post, to whoever they want. And you can’t stop them, you have no rights in this layer of existence.

Have a look at the terms of Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media. Not only do they have effectively unlimited rights over whatever you post, they have much stronger rights than you, the user, have over your own digital existence. They use the “license”, which is effectively Intellectual Property Rights in the copyright of their code, and potentially some patents in their functionality, combined with what they call a contract, to impose their “rights” to use your digital you.

When Google+ started, Facebook very quickly disabled an application that allowed any user to export their data and other account information (the layer of their existence on Facebook) into Google+. That would have amounted to users effectively switching provider of their digital existence. But Facebook quickly closed that back door of the slave pen.

What that means is that Facebook blocks its users from doing with their digital life what they want. Only Facebook gets to decide what happens with your digital you, with your “Facebook you”. That’s why I call this digital slavery.

And they don’t have to respect any of your rights, because “you agreed to the terms”.

The fact that you didn’t have a choice makes no difference – they own your digital you.

They will say some things like “we value your privacy”, but that is mainly because they understand how to make money on the back of it. Maybe that is the true meaning of their expression “we value”.

Is this surprising? Not really. Most SF fans will recognize the story line how colonists of new worlds often go through a period of slavery.

The online digital planet Earth (v2.0) seems to be no different.

Is it sustainable? Probably not in the mid- to long term. But short term, since we have no digital human rights, corporations will be able to develop this new feudal online system, where you and I have no rights, outside the scope of our poor world v1.0 court system.

It is no coincidence that so few court cases are filed against Facebook. Normally, you would expect hundreds or even thousands of them. But you can’t even access the evidence, and Facebook cleverly moves the goalposts about every two months (“We’ve updated our privacy policy – have a look, we’ll think you’ll agree – because we really value your privacy”).

In the end, I think, two things will happen.

The first is that the new, digital, generation will revolt, and demand and obtain digital human rights.

We will have to formulate that “we hold the extension of dignity, equality and self-determination into the digital world to be self-evident”, so that only the digital person will decide on who owns him/her, and their data.

The second is that market forces, when allowed to wreak their creative destruction, might push new entrants to compete on quality of rights granted on their platform. Google+ is a small step in that direction.

Will others follow? It remains to be seen.

What could stop those market forces? Intellectual Property Rights in their current shape and form are probably a prime candidate, since they allow to project monopolistic rights deeply into the value chain. I would not be surprised to find that, certainly at the moment, governments will prefer Facebook’s monopoly on its platform, and hence the functionality therein, over the rights and freedom of its digital slaves.

My prediction is that this will be one of the political fault lines of the 21st century, as the rise of the Pirate Party in countries like Sweden and Germany forebodes.

Funny how Facebook, less than 10 years after its creation, is already deeply reactionary. Guess that’s what happens when you become a slave-trader.



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