Trebor Scholz: What the Myspace generation should know about working for free
April 3rd, 2007

Jeff Jarvis has posted about “Who owns the wisdom of the crowd,” and Trebor Scholz has come along with a broader critique of the exploitation of user-generated content, “What the MySpace generation should know about working for free.” I’d say that the key to the empowerment of the exploited in regard to online cultural production is the same principle of informed consent that is applied to medical procedures: people ought to know how their tags, posts, and other online creations are being used by others, and who profits from their work. But then, I’d probably still use del.icio.us — as does Trebor.

It seems obvious that all this channeled networked sociality represents monetary value. Post-dot.bomb, the Google zars would not buy a very young video website like YouTube for the price of the New York Times Company if there would not be a clear monetary value.

The dicey ethics related to property issues and exploitation of labor of *the core of the sociable web* becomes apparent if we look at Yahoo’s privacy policies for Facebook.

“Facebook may also collect information about you from other sources, such as newspapers, blogs, instant messaging services, and other users of the Facebook service through the operation of the service (e.g., photo tags) in order to provide you with more useful information and a more personalized experience.”

That is a dream come true for any market researcher. But it does not stop at bizarre privacy policies, Yahoo also claims rights over the content on Facebook:

“By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content…”

The picture of net publics–being used–is, however, complicated by the fact that participants undeniably get a lot out of their participation. There is the pleasure of creation and mere social enjoyment. Participants gain friendships and a sense of group belonging. They share their life experiences and archive their memories. They are getting jobs, find dates and arguably contribute to the greater good.

The scale and degree of exploitation of immaterial labor is most disturbing when looking at the highest traffic sites. The sociable web makes people easier to use and this dynamic will only be amplified by the increasing connection of mobile devices to the big social networking sites.


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