The music-streaming industry is a perfect example of how complicated the world of royalties can be. Labels, streaming services and artists are frequently locked in legal battles over who gets how much money and when. There's often the question of whether musicians are getting paid enough by the companies that are making millions of dollars off their content, and a similar trend would likely play out if a campaign like OwnYourData ever became a reality.
In this case, the Facebook users would be like the musicians, who would then also have to worry about figuring out how much their data is worth. And chances are that not everyone's data is equally valuable. Certain individuals (like celebrities) would likely offer more value to advertisers than others. Facebook is a mess as is, and this has the potential to create an even bigger one.
T.F.E. Tjong Tjin Tai, a professor at Tilburg Law School who teaches about the legal aspects of data and digital developments, including "smart" contracts and liability for algorithms, said this is a "pathetic" idea that won't work. Since people don't have access to a full copy of their Facebook data -- as in, everything the company knows about you, not just the downloadable file from its site -- there simply can't be any talk of ownership. "Once you provide them access," he said, "you've lost control." Tjong Tjin Tai added that, although efforts like the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) could keep some aspects of how your data is being handled under control, the only real solution at this point would be to fully outlaw the way Facebook collects data. And that's not something he believes will ever happen.
"I like these crazy ideas in the sense that they're not feasible," Tjong Tjin Tai said. "You could argue something [could be done] like what they have in the European Union regarding works of art. If a painter creates a painting, he still gets a cut of the profit made from later sales." But, he noted, translating that to the internet would be complicated and impractical, because it's an industry that's not heavily regulated -- or at least it hasn't been yet. We are beginning to see changes in that regard, starting with GDPR, which goes into effect in the EU on May 25th. And in the US, it seems as if tougher regulation for Facebook and other tech companies is inevitable -- especially after the Cambridge Analytica nightmare.
Tjong Tjin Tai said one of the main issues is that the likes of Facebook and Google confuse people about what "data ownership" really means, since they like to say the user is the owner of the information you consent to share -- yet, they can almost do whatever they want it once it's in their possession. Even in instances where you can "download your data", that file won't paint the full picture of what a company knows about you. He added that GDPR is making huge strides to solve that problem, but we won't know just how successful it will be in controlling these companies, if it is at all. "In the end, the only thing which would work is regulation," Tjong Tjin Tai added. "For physical stuff, you can do without regulation, because you can just chase [someone] off your property and protect your things by putting it in the vault and so on. Data is intangible in that respect."
There's no doubt that the 2.2 billion people who use Facebook would love to cash a check from the company, but the sad truth is that this is nothing but a pipe dream. It also ultimately suggests that this isn't Facebook's problem to solve, it's yours, and that doesn't sound like a fair deal.