I often joke that folks like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple and Google executives should have standing reservations at the Capitol Hill Motel 6 since they spend so much time testifying to Congressional committees in Washington. Now, it looks like a reservations in London, England may be necessary too.
In a very interesting turn of events, Dr Liza Lovdahl Gormsen, a competition expert in the UK, has taken a different approach in fighting the dominance of Big Tech. Dr. Gormsen is filing a class action lawsuit against Meta (a.k.a. Facebook), on behalf of the estimated 44 million Facebook users living in the UK.
Dr. Gormsen alleges Meta “abused its market dominance” to set an “unfair price” for the free use of Facebook – UK users’ personal data. In this unique twist on the idea of anti-competitive behaviour, Dr. Gormsen is focusing attention where it should be: on protecting the data sovereignty of individual users.
I don’t know anyone who joined Facebook because they wanted to meet strangers and be targeted with non-stop ads. Most people join social media because their friends are already there, so naturally wish to communicate and share.
Your Data or your Soul?
By alleging that Facebook is not really a ‘free’ service, and that people pay by surrendering their private data, Dr. Gormsen is focusing on the Faustian Bargain we all unwittingly made when we signed up for a social account to coordinate our kid’s soccer practices or share family photos.
How many of us would have accepted the ‘free’ services provided by Facebook if we realized we were actually selling our ‘data soul’ to the devil for nothing? If you knew that clicking ‘I agree’ all those years ago would make Mark Zuckerberg a billionaire, you might have thought twice about ‘free’ Facebook, and this is the salient point of Dr. Gormsen’s lawsuit.
Grab the Devil by the horns
Faust knew he was doing a deal with the Devil when he agreed to surrender his soul in exchange for otherwise unattainable knowledge and magical powers. Surrendering our personal data to Facebook, Google, and Amazon was never part of the bargain when we clicked ‘I agree’, and an endless timeline full of ads, trolling and fake news from strangers certainly doesn’t qualify as knowledge or magical power.
When asked for a response to Dr. Gormsen’s lawsuit, a Meta representative said users had “meaningful control” of what information they share.
Well, I’ll be following this lawsuit carefully because if the person you’re bargaining with is a billionaire wearing chinos and a golf shirt, it doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t a set of horns or a pointy red tail underneath.