One of my favourite Private Eye Cartoons is the Scenes you Seldom See series by Barry Fantoni. I remember reading the below one yonks ago.
I’m not sure when that was first published in Private Eye. The chap who has it on his blog put it there in 2003, so it’s at least 10 years old. At the time I first saw it I thought it was brilliant.
Now, spam is a constant blight on my daily life. My spam folder on my email account is full of messages. My recycling bin at home is full of junk mail. I get regular calls on my work number telling me I am entitled to claim compensation for being mis-sold PPI. My Facebook timeline is filled with adverts for uninteresting companies because one of my friends has ‘liked’ them.
It seems putting up with unwanted messages is the cost of doing business, i.e. if I want the free email & the free social media then I have to make my peace with getting a fair amount of dross in with the content that I actually want.
I am not the customer here. I am the product. My eyeballs, my attention and my capacity to suddenly desire worldly goods are being sold to advertisers. This in turn keeps Facebook and Twitter running, and free for me to use for my own purposes.
So am I supposed to just accept this?
In response to an anti-spam rant some people suggested that I don’t have the right to complain. I disagree. My complaint may not be successful, but I don’t think that should stop me from trying.
Here’s the thing about people being your product. People are sentient. They are capable of assessing a situation and then modifying their behaviour in order to maximise the benefit they will derive from it.
Some people seem to think that because getting a free social media service in exchange for receiving advertising is ‘the way it works’ then I have entered into a moral social contract with the business. This is where I have a problem. As a self-interested, rational agent I want what’s best for me. Ideally I would be able to use free services like Facebook & Twitter and not have to put up with any spam at all. If I can be bothered I’m entitled to try to pursue that aim.
Facebook might not like this attitude, but they made the decision to design a business which sells rational, self interested agents in the first place. If they didn’t want their ‘product’ to rebel against them they shouldn’t have gone into the business of selling something which has a brain.