Man is an irrational social animal. One minute he’s up in arms, fighting for digital freedom from Microsoft and Apple, and tooting the horn of all things muft and mukt with copyleft. The next moment, he thinks nothing of throwing away personal and often intimate details of his life, complete with photos and candid admissions, on Facebook.
How widespread is this irrationality? According to Alexa, Facebook is the second most popular website in the world. Facebook endorses that, claiming it has over 400 million users, a figure that is truly astounding. Every Facebook user I know constantly strives to connect with and make a favourable impression on one set of people, while worrying about how to avoid, ignore, or even block another set of undesirables. The perception of “I-am-in-control-of-my-Facebook-account” is false. Isn’t it obvious? Facebook is the real master of the fate of your fame.
Love. Like. Hate. Adore
Its engines know everything about who you like, and more importantly, whom you dislike. Further, they also know who dislikes you. Every private message you whisper directly to a friend using Facebook’s “message” service is dutifully archived by the engines. Photos of you, with your friends, with your pet dog, all the ribald fun you’ve had, even the school you’ve attended and your buddies there… everything is captured in the most minute of details.
You don’t even need to be on Facebook. All it takes is someone who knows you to rat or squeal something about you to enmesh you in Facebook’s coils. For instance, have you cringed when someone publishes a long-forgotten photo of you and boldly tags you in its caption? Move over Jim Carey, Facebook is the new Riddler (from Batman) of the new digitally-social age.
Copyright in a collaborative world
You do retain copyright over all your authored content, such as photos and messages. But the real value that both Facebook and you derive from these, is in the rich ecosystem of comments and collaboration from a vast community. Retract your copyrighted content from Facebook, and all this is lost. You can’t “take” this richness from within Facebook with you, to any other similar social website. The data around your data suddenly becomes even more meaningful than your own data. This “sharing” of everyone’s copyrighted data in intricate and meaningful ways is Facebook’s value.
In 2007, Microsoft bought a measly 1.6 per cent stake in Facebook for USD 250 million, indicating Facebook’s worth at that time was USD 15 billion. Pure genius!
Riddle me this
This is the most bizarre aspect of Facebook: Your loss of freedom and privacy is pulled off by using one of the largest and most diverse sets of open source software, with various degrees of freedom. Facebook gives away large and significant chunks of its code freely, encouraging developers to play with and further enrich the code. Take a look at this page, and follow it up with the growing list of special open source projects that work on the Facebook Platform. More than 800,000 developers around the world work frantically to build applications for the Facebook platform. Some of those applications, in turn, have millions of users.
Concurrently, the funny story of corporations and businesses, with their misjudged sense of digital culture, continues. First, most of them block and ban all employees from accessing Facebook from office, often citing it as an annoying waste of time. Then they urgently want “fan pages” of their corporate products and services on Facebook, hailing buzz and “market conversations” as the new marketing paradigm of the decade. Now employees suddenly find themselves chided for not joining the corporate Facebook page soon enough.
I don’t have answers on how we can retain our digital freedom and privacy. A lot of people are grappling to find new answers to these new challenges. Do take a look at the Open Social project. Join the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) as well as the European Union’s (EU) initiatives that fight for your privacy and rights whenever they’re violated or threatened. Stay tuned. The next chapter in this book is yet to be written.
Verbatim copying, publishing and distribution of this article is encouraged in any language and medium, so long as this copyright notice is preserved. In Hindi, muft means “free-of-cost”, and mukt means “with freedom”.
Feature image courtesy: Sean MacEnte. Reused under the terms of CC-BY 2.0 License.