While knowledge is power, information is now money. This is especially true in the case of Facebook. While Facebook presents itself as a social network site, it can probably be best compared to a gold mine. In gold mine, miners dig up gold for their employers and this is sold to make a profit for the corporate masters. In the case of the Facebook mine, the users’ information is the gold.
Of course, the mine analogy does break down a bit. Ina gold mine, people do not create the gold that is mined. It is just there to be found by whichever company or government that owns the land. In the case of Facebook, the users create the valuable resource. As such, perhaps a better analogy is that the Facebook users are like chickens in an egg farm. The users do the main work, laying those informational eggs. Then Facebook gathers them up.
On the face of it, being a chicken for Facebook does not seem like a great deal. After all, Facebook is making money and the users are not. Of course, it could be replied that the users are getting something out of it. After all, Facebook does provide a service at no monetary cost to the user. Going back to the chicken analogy, the price of having a place to roost is giving up those informational eggs.
This trade (information for services) is hardly unusual. However, some folks are not happy with Facebook because of its approach to privacy. In fact, some people have elected to deactivate their accounts rather than accept Facebook’s new approach to privacy. Others are aware of the policies and have decided to remain, while most people probably are unaware and do not care.
As with any economic transaction, whether it is reasonable to trade information for Facebook access depends largely on how much the person doing the trade values what is traded and what it is being traded for. If a person values his privacy less than access to Facebook, then it would seem to be a reasonable deal.
There is also the question of whether the person is making an informed decision about what is being traded. After all, a person might value his privacy less than he values Facebook access because she does not know how valuable her private data is or what the consequences might be for allowing that data to be sold or shared. Unfortunately, while there are clear ways to assess the worth of goods such as gold, oil, or wheat, assessing the value of private data seems to be a bit more complicated. I suspect that the experts are already hard at work developing theories and formulas for this (if they have not done so already).
If a Facebook user does not know the value of his private data, then trading that to Facebook is something of a gamble. To use an analogy, it would be a bit like handing over a lottery ticket as payment for a product. The lottery ticket might be worth more or less than the product, but this is not known.
Of course, people can make an estimate about how much their private data is worth. In most cases, probably not that much. However, depending on what the information could be used for (such as identity theft), then it could be worth a great deal to the person.
A person also needs to consider how much of this private data is unique to Facebook and how much is already readily available. After all, of the information is already not private, the user is not giving up any privacy in return for a Facebook account.
While I am concerned about how Facebook is operating, everything I have on Facebook is also readily available elsewhere. Part of this is due to the fact that my profession (professor) is rather public. Part of this is due to my hobbies and writing. As such, I am not too worried about Facebook leaking anything secret about me. Also, I make a point to ensure that nothing that I want to be kept private ends up on Facebook and I mainly just use it as a place to post photos for my friends to see.