Essays on Technology and Culture

Paying in Data

A while back, one of my favorite apps, Moves, was bought by Facebook. Cue the standard rending of garments and rage-quitting after the Moves people changed their privacy policy so that Facebook could have their data. In the midst of that great uproar, I tweeted that I would continue to use Moves until Facebook did something questionable with the data.

Why? Well, I’m no fan of Facebook. I’m a user of their service because it’s the one option I have if I want to stay in touch with friends and family, especially the non-techie friends and family. Likewise, Moves is the best app for tracking where I go during the day. There’s other automatic life logging apps, and I’ve tried them. They’re all big, bloated messes. Moves tracks where I go, how many steps, and guesses what mode I used to get there. It’s a great tool for getting a picture of my day.

So, now Facebook sees it. Or can see it. Whatever.

While I understand the desire to be protective of who has access to your data, I’m willing to surrender my information if what I get in return is worth the price. It’s why I still use Google, Dropbox, and a host of other free services. It’s also, yes, part of why I use Facebook. I’d still rather pay, and not give up my data if I have that option, but I’m okay with the alternative. I would have happily paid money for Moves up front, or through some In-App Purchase deal, if it meant they could stay independent. Looks like I’ll be supporting them with my data, instead.

This is one small piece of a larger argument over paying for services in data, but it’s an argument that often overlooks most people’s apathy about their personal data, and preference for free over paid. After all, broadband and mobile internet in the US is expensive enough for many people. Asking them to pay for currently free services like email, or social networking as well adds up to an expensive proposition. A lot of us in the technology world understand the value of our data, and have a greater ability to pay for those services normal people take for granted.

For there to be any improvement across the population, a lot of little things need to change first. Internet access needs to be cheaper, normal people need to learn more about the value of their data, and companies need to find a sustainable business model beyond selling data to advertisers, or charging up front for a service of unclear value. Tecies rage-quitting valuable apps and services makes for compelling Twitter post. It does little to accomplish any real change. In the time it takes to post your quitting message, a hundred or more new people downloaded the app from all the publicity.

Even considering all the above, if there were another app that does what Moves does, as well as Moves does it, and charged a reasonable price in dollars instead of data, I would jump in a heartbeat. I doubt any developer would be able to make a going concern out of it. So, I’m back where I started, and I’m okay with that. Until Facebook does something with my Moves data that goes too far, I’m going to keep using it. I’m still getting my data’s worth.