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Social Networks and Privacy

So according to this article, Google+ really is intended to collect information from EVERYTHING Google-related that you do (which may include a lot of things that aren't _obviously_ Google-related, like YouTube), aggregate it under your single identity, and sell it to advertisers. More or less like Facebook's new "frictionless sharing", in which every Web page you visit, every song you download, every article you read on-line, even in places that have nothing to do with Facebook, can appear in your Timeline for the world (or at least your friends) to read.

The idea of getting people to pay for something they want, not with money but with their attention or personal information, is not new: that's how the radio and TV industries have been funded in the U.S. for decades. But in radio and TV there's an alternative: PUBLIC radio and TV, which are funded in part by government and wealthy philanthropists, but mostly by listeners and viewers themselves, who "cut out the middleman" by paying for their entertainment directly with dollars.

The equivalent in social networking is called a "paid account". I pay the company an annual fee, and in exchange they let me name myself whatever I wish (subject to uniqueness and offensiveness rules), they don't blitz me with advertising, they don't sell my personal data to third parties, etc. LiveJournal has paid accounts; as far as I know Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn don't. And they might be able to rescue a good deal of public goodwill by offering that as an alternative.

The downside, of course, is that it creates another digital divide: privacy for those who can afford it. This didn't happen with public broadcasting because receiving radio and TV signals is a "public good", available to everybody whether they've paid or not. The problem with public goods, as always, is the incentive to "cheat": if you're going to get it whether you pay for it or not, why would any sensible person pay for it? Public broadcasting usually muddles along because there are enough philanthropists and enough people who believe as a moral position that they SHOULD pay their share of something they find valuable... but it seldom thrives.



Since our existence *can* be monetized without our buy-in, we don't have too much choice, in my opinion... While I could use something other than Google, I also know the alternatives aren't Google, for better and worse. While I could have mail with Yahoo, use Bing for search, avoid YouTube...other things aren't as convenient, aren't as user-friendly and aren't as feature-rich (part of which, no doubt, is due to the innate benefit of being a one-stop-shop)...

Then again, I also don't know that a pay option will exist to opt-out, even if we want it. Not much can be built on something that has an inadequate user base, which is one reason a number of other efforts have failed.

So I guess my question would be that if I could opt-out by paying to do so, would I? I'd be hurting myself if I were to do so, if I value what is being offered via the current model...