[iDC] RE. Ello--Alternative to Facebook

Andrew McNicol mcnicolandrew at gmail.com
Tue Sep 30 23:15:03 UTC 2014

Hi all,

I thought I would quickly comment on the 'payment for privacy' part of this

Elliot wrote:

I too would gladly pay a user fee to avoid the monetizing of my data, on FB
> especially, and Ello's model of voluntary payment seems to at least throws
> a bone to that option.

This is not an uncommon desire, but it appears to not have worked in
bringing a significant userbase to app.net, likely due to it being somewhat
exclusionary (you originally had to pay) so the userbase was small. (Or
perhaps it was just the wrong time for the platform?) I'm actually a bit
surprised none of the newer (and big enough to register on the radar of
popular discourse) platforms have adopted the ad-supported vs. paid option
model, as livejournal has literally been doing this for over a decade.

The main thing I wanted to add here though was in regard to the social
effects of a large-scale, 'payment for privacy' system. I understand that
services need funding from somewhere in order to function, but if you're
designing a system that rewards financial payments with private
interactions (the realistic extent of this 'privacy' would be questionable,
but I won't go into that here) then you're creating a community where those
who have money to spend on social networking services are more able to
control their privacy.

This creation of a two-class system of data privacy actually concerns me a
lot. So you've either got a situation like app.net (before it tried
freemium options) where those who can't afford to sign up are unable to
engage in the discussion at all, or a freemium model where those who *can't*
afford to pay up front must pay through, what those who *want* to pay would
deem, an unfair breach of their privacy. Social media usage informs a large
part of our collective concern about privacy, and if we were to
significantly reduce that for only a *particular* subset of the population
(part of my research discusses how populations with money to spend on
social media are often closely correlated with the subset of the population
that is *least* at risk of privacy violations - but that's another
discussion), then I see that introducing problems related to social
inequality. (And victim blaming discourse when something goes bad - "If you
didn't want your privacy breached, why didn't you pay the fees and keep
your account financed?")

While talk of monetisation on social networking services usually assumes
targeted advertising is the best (or only) way to go, there *are*
alternatives to this. First of all, a service can still make money (Ello,
for example, could possibly make enough) through anonymised advertising.
Secondly, a service can ask for donations that give something extra to the
user *other* than privacy - livejournal allowed more user icons, for
example - or even just a simple 'thank you'. And lastly, if we go back a
few years to one of the previous popular contenders for a 'facebook
killer', diaspora shows us that it is actually possible for a server to run
without users paying directly through money or indirectly through targeted
advertising (depending on the server, ymmv). An added bonus of diaspora is
that it's decentralised so you don't have to worry too much about the
service dying (like app.net seems to be doing) or rely on a centralised,
often capitalist minded, entity controlling all decisions about the
platform. I mean, diaspora is not perfect (slightly more technical
expertise required to understand how to sign up and what it means to have
different servers, for example), but in regard to a lot of the concerns
people are currently having about Ello, I wonder if diaspora is (again)
probably a better alternative.

Of course, the public consciousness if focused on Ello right now, so I
don't think the current round of facebook dissent is going to have much of
an impact on diaspora's userbase.

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