OkCupid co-founder and president Christian Rudder opines on the blurred lines of data ownership in the digital world. Rudder is the author of Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking).
Christian Rudder: There is the argument that my data is my own and when I do something on Facebook or on OkCupid or wherever that that is an asset that I've created that I deserve to control. And of course Facebook's argument and obviously OkCupid's argument is well, what we're giving you in exchange for your data very clearly are these tools. Like on OkCupid you can find dates. On Facebook you can connect with long lost friends. You have an easy platform to collect pictures. You… To the extent that any of these sites are useful, that's why people use them. There's nobody that has to use Facebook or certainly OkCupid. There's plenty of alternatives for that.
People have argued that you should be able to get money in exchange for contributing your data to Facebook and Facebook goes and sells the fact that you're into Ferraris or whatever to Ferrari so therefore you see ads and you're somehow more incrementally more likely to buy a nice car, that you should somehow get money from that. But my argument there is what they're giving you in exchange for this information is the fact that you can use Facebook for free. It's not like the phone service where you used to have like a $50 phone bill or $100 phone bill every month. It's free. However, I think there's a good argument for you being able to – when you're tired of that exchange I don't want to use Facebook anymore, you should be able to exit that experience wholly rather than leaving whatever vestige of yourself you have to leave now. I know that they give you tools for that and the world I think generally is coming around this idea, but it is scary even to me as an owner of one of these websites, if you're going to sit there and live online, and for whatever reason you want to break up with the site that you're still beholden to them even after you've made that decision.
Privacy historically has been a luxury of the rich in certain ways. Like I bring up these examples in the book but you want to have a private car on a train, you want to have a house with walls or a house with a big yard walls, you want to live in some remote stretch out in Woodstock or wherever. There's not jobs up there out in Montana with these huge ranches and stuff unless you happen to be running a ranch. So private islands, all this stuff these are all extremely expensive, private jets, extremely expensive options that people who have a lot of money choose to take, somewhat for privacy, somewhat for convenience. But for the Internet - it's hard to argue that it will be easier to remain off-line. So that means it's probably going to be harder. And to the extent that people who have less money have less time to spend worrying about this kind of stuff the same way that obviously wealthier people tend to worry a lot more about what they're eating, kale and all this other stuff.
To make the analogy to the online world, it probably will the case with people with more leisure, people with more time to be educated about it will probably have a more private online experience. I'm not sure it's the money itself that will drive that. I don't think you're going to have to give Facebook $100 or whatever it is to keep private, although it might come to that. I think people who have more money will be able to live a more private life online.