No, Facebook doesn't owe you money

Facebook may make money from your content but that doesn't mean the company owes you a dime. The social network is free, but if that's not enough for you, then just quit.

The New York Times today published an article titled "Disruptions: Facebook Users Ask, 'Where's Our Cut?'" The main argument appears to be: since Facebook makes money primarily from advertising centered on user content, the company therefore owes each and every one of its 845 million users a cut of its profits. Here's the introduction:

By my calculation, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder and chief executive, owes me about $50.

Without me, and the other 844,999,999 people poking, liking and sharing on the site, Facebook would look like a scene from the postapocalyptic movie "The Day After Tomorrow": bleak, desolate and really quite sad. (Or MySpace, if that is easier to imagine.) Facebook surely would never be valued at anything close to $100 billion, which it very well could be in its coming initial public offering.

In the company's S-1 filing, submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission this week, Facebook boasts about its statistics: annually, people "like" one trillion things; 91 billion photos are uploaded; half a billion people use Facebook on mobile phones; and hundreds of millions are annoyingly “poked.”

So all this leaves me with a question: Where's my cut? I helped build this thing, too. Facebook laid the foundation of the house and put in the plumbing, but we put up the walls, picked out the furniture, painted and hung photos, and invited everyone over for dinner parties.

Facebook is the biggest private-turning-public company where content is created by its users. As such, the argument is that the company should pay you, in return for making money from its ads based on you, or charge you and not make any money from your content. It's a nice idea because, hey… who doesn't want to get a cheque from Facebook?

Sorry, but that's not how Facebook's business works. While the above Jimmy Kimmel Live video is quite amusing, it also summarizes my counter point quite succinctly: Facebook does not force you to use its service.

You don't have to sign up, you don't have to friend anyone, and you don't have to share content on the site. If you want to, you can do so, but that's your choice. Furthermore, as long as there are ads on Facebook, it will remain free.

It's understood that when you hand over data to Facebook, the company will use it to serve up ads to you. In return, you get to keep using Facebook without paying anything. Facebook is attractive as a free service. Users find the social network amazing, amusing, alienating, addictive, annoying, and so on. In short, they keep coming back because they gain from it more than they lose… it's social.

I understand the advantage of having a premium version of Facebook, much like LinkedIn does. It would be nice to completely opt-out of Facebook ads and cookie tracking, although I'm not sure how many would do that for a price. Either way, you can't do that right now.

If you don't like that, quit Facebook. You're allowed to leave. Just remember that even if you do, Facebook is here to stay.

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