Andrew Keen argues that the free business model employed by Google and Facebook — in which the use of their services is paid for by users’ personal data — has corrupted the internet and birthed a new “creepy economy.” Keen says if he could reconfigure Google’s business model, he’d erase the data tracking and instead charge for the web search service.
Andrew Keen: If I could rework the entire business model of Google, I would get Google to charge for their search engine. I think it’s an outstanding product. I acknowledge that. I’ll say it publicly. I use it all the time, too much. I don’t have a Google account. I’m very careful about that. I don’t have a Gmail account and I don’t sign into Google when I use the Google search. But Google still knows me because I’m really only on one or two computers. If they’re watching, they will know. Google, of course, is always watching. But the way to solve that is that Google, the Google search, the Google — all the Google products are free, which it means that they have — their revenue is derived from advertising. The alternative would be to charge me $10 a month, say, for all I can eat on the Google search. And in exchange for that they would say we will promise never to look at you; there’ll be no cookies, no ways that they can survey what we’re doing. They would do away with themselves as a big data company. The same is true of Facebook. I don’t have a Facebook account. Not because Facebook’s a bad product. In some way, I think it’s creepy, but only because of their data practices. If the Facebook product was offered for $10 or $15 a month or whatever the price was, like Spotify is, it would be a much more attractive model.
So I think that that is the challenge. I’m not the only person to think in these terms. Ethan [Zuckerman] who is a fellow at the Berkman Center and one of the most articulate sort of evangelists for the Internet, at least at the beginning, argues now that the free business model was the original sin of the Internet. And I think Ethan’s choice of biblical language is appropriate. It was an original sin. It’s corrupted everything else. So I want to see Google charge for their services and I think that they could still be an incredibly viable company. After all, what’s wrong with paying for stuff? Before this interview, I paid for my lunch. I paid for my taxi cab. I didn’t exchange my data for it. That economy has worked well for hundreds of years. This new economy is creepy. It’s corrupted by the original sin of swapping wonderful technology for data.
Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton