Facebook users want their share

Last week's Facebook IPO has many users questioning why the social network can make so much money off of their user data.

Kai Ryssdal: An interesting thing happened over the weekend as Facebook users absorbed the news of Facebook's looming initital public offering. There were more grumblings online than usual that Mark Zuckerberg and company are getting rich off users' content.

David Streitfeld is a technology writer for the New York Times. Good to have you with us.

David Streitfeld: Thanks for letting me be here.

Ryssdal: It's kind of interesting that people are just now sort of focusing on this idea that they are the content that Facebook's making all this money off of.

Streitfeld: I think it really occurred when they saw the news stories last week that said Facebook was a $75 billion company -- it really hit home to them.

Ryssdal: That sort of implies that you believe this is going to be a bad thing, or there's the potential for this to go south for Facebook?

Streitfeld: I think it's a public relations problem for Facebook. They'll have to deal with it in the next few months before their shares start trading. I don't think it's gone far enough yet to become a real business backlash, where people will start dropping out of the site, but it might. It easily could get there.

Ryssdal: Here's the thing, though: Google has been making money off of our searches for years and years and years now. Is Facebook different because it's who our friends are and what are our pictures are and, you know, what I had for lunch the other day and who I saw?

Streitfeld: With Google, it was making money off your searches, which were a little distant from you. With Facebook, all you're doing is posting a photo of your adorable 2-year-old, and Facebook transmits that into data that it uses to sell you an ad. Most people don't really want to have the sense that their adorable 2-year-old is a way for someone else to make money.

Ryssdal: Seems to me we probably ought to get over that, huh?

Streitfeld: Should we get over it? I don't know. There is a small but growing sense that people should control the information about themselves and decide if they want it to be sold.

Ryssdal: Just by way of closing, where do you think this goes? Does anything change with the way Facebook uses our data?

Streitfeld: I think Facebook will increasingly interface, discuss with its users how it's going to make changes and give people some sense that they're participating in the process, that it's not being dictated to them by rich people in Silicon Valley.

Ryssdal: David Streitfeld, a technology reporter from the New York Times. We got him up in Silicon Valley. David, thanks a lot.

Streitfeld: Thanks for letting me be here.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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