The Value of Your Social Data—Whose Data Is It?


In the Age of Information today there is one common platform, whether commercial or personal, that all of us are likely familiar with – social media. In that respects, social media is a rather ubiquitous experience, insofar as over one billion Facebook users are concerned.

We are wanting participants in this new age and we don’t think much about our participation. Can you blame us? After all, as humans, we like to be informed and included. We like to be social. Our very nature, stemming back to the days of survival in the wild, necessitated that we be social to live and thrive. However, in the great ages that have been visited upon humanity since we emerged from our humble Paleolithic social gatherings, we learned one thing – it takes a while for the great thinkers of humanity to consider the ramifications of the age from a humanistic social point of view.

The Industrial Age was a period of incredibly mechanistic advancement. Suddenly, factories covered the world and things could be mass produced on a scale previously only dreamed about. The steam engine, the power loom, electric power, running water, the rise of the nation states – all transformed the world as we knew it then, including the people in it.

Such progress also brought the negative side effects of it too. The Industrial Age was dehumanizing in many respects. Children as young as five were sent to work in dangerous factories. Rivers became polluted. Hours were long for the average worker.

Over time, these abuses led to critical thinking about human rights. Things changed. Unions were born. Labor laws evolved. Political and religious philosophies were shaped and imparted upon the masses to address the negative effects of the Industrial Age.

Social media, however, is an aspect of the Information Age, where the negatives are less clear. After all, social media is too much fun. We love to share pictures of cats. We enjoy posting about movies that we enjoy, products that we use, people we don’t like – for reasons political, personal, and cultural. In short, we are empowered to be goofs. In the Industrial Age our humanity may have been slowly stripped away by doing one thing all day. In the Information Age we might face a similar consequence from social media by essentially doing nothing all day.

So what could possibly be painful about using social media? Social media is more nuanced when it comes to the pain that the new era of information might possibly be generating. That nuance lies in privacy and data rights. This is the one area where we have not done much thinking. It is the one domain where the great thinkers are silenced under the millions of cat purrs emanating from YouTube videos.

Despite the information cacophony we create, we also generate highly valuable data for governments and commercial interests. That data is intrinsically rooted in our individual human experiences. Yet we sign away rights to it as if that data were worth nothing, when we log into many popular social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and many others. That valuable data, then crosses the threshold, into a world where “proprietary” does not mean “propriety” and our return for contributing our data is problematic at best. After all, our rights are gone insofar as most social media terms of use are concerned.

It is time we think about the value of that data we freely give away. Who does that data ultimately belong too? Can you really ever give away the rights to your experience as a human? When you give your data to a social media platform, should you have a right to know how they use it? Now that all the good domain names are taken, could our very own names be taken next? It could happen right before your very eyes. If it did, would you even notice – or would you be too busy commenting on cat videos?

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