Are you being used? Are companies taking advantage of your enthusiasm to enrich themselves through the abstract new mechanisms of social networking? In a jointly reported story on the New York Times’ Bits blog, Facebook users were asked to comment on the network’s practice of using a person’s “likes” in advertisements to that person’s friends. For instance, if I “liked” a brand of tennis shoes on Facebook at some point in the past, Facebook may be using that bit of data to advertise that brand of shoes to my friends by promoting a link that says “Michael Thomsen likes Shoe X,” all without my knowledge or consent.
Nathaniel Shepard of Providence, Rhode Island makes an interesting argument. If Facebook is using his personal information to make money, he should be the prime recipient of whatever profit that bit of information generates.
The legal assumption must be that I have given up privacy and the right to a remuneratory contract by ‘liking’ their page in a quasi-public forum. Facebook users, much like politicians, from their digital bully pulpit must take greater care in disclosing their opinion. Very early on, and certainly by the time they apply for a job, kids learn to be careful about what they post on Facebook. If my opinion is valuable, perhaps I shouldn’t give it for free, but for now I imagine the masses will enjoy seeing their name in lights.
The argument has a parallel in the world of free-to-play games. Most games in the category make money from the microtransactions of a small percentage of players, but they benefit from the large-scale churn of other free players who create the appearance of vibrancy and exciting activity. In short, they make a game feel current and alive, a place where the more dedicated players will feel drawn to return again and again.
Should players be compensated for their investment of time since it is being used to indirectly monetize a company’s microtransaction-based business model? Could there be a future where developers actually hire players to create the illusion of buzzing activity in their games in the same way that casting companies hire seat-fillers for awards shows and talk shows? Would you be more likely to play a game if someone was offering you a percentage of all the microtransactions sold to players you interacted with in your session?