Thesis #11

Thesis 11: Think of Google and Facebook as if they were ExxonMobil and Glencore

Google and Facebook portray themselves as ‘tech’ companies and reap the PR benefits of that particular strategy: connotations of modernity, innovation, progressiveness and soothing rhetoric about ‘not being evil’ and building a ‘global community’. This is basically manipulative hogwash. These companies are large capitalist corporations which derive the overwhelming bulk of their revenues from extracting users’ data, refining and selling it to advertisers. Google gets 87 per cent of its revenues this way; Facebook’s proportion is even higher — 95 per cent.

So Google and Facebook are basically extractive companies — like ExxonMobil and Glencore, the world’s biggest mining company. The only difference is that the resources that the latter pair extract, refine and sell are natural ones — oil & gas (ExxonMobil) and minerals and ores (Glencore).

In contrast, the resources that are ‘mined’ by Google and Facebook are the personal data and online data-trails (‘Likes’, shares, searches, browsing histories, photo and video-uploads, etc.) of their users.

The big difference between the online giants and their offline counterparts is that whereas oil reserves, say, are finite, data-reserves can be increased by inducing Google and Facebook users to engage even more intensively with the companies’ services. Which explains why so many humans are now addicted to their smartphones (Thesis 15).

Further Reading

Rick Webb, “Google’s $350 Billion Haircut”, Medium, 16 October, 2017.

Bryan Son, Caribou Digital and Mark Surman, “An ad-supported internet isn’t going to be sustainable in emerging markets”, Quartz, 1 August, 2017.

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