A Facebook co-founder says Facebook should pay us for our data

The face of the problem.
The face of the problem.
Image: AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
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Los Angeles

Facebook made Chris Hughes a wealthy man. A Harvard roommate of Mark Zuckerberg, Hughes’s early involvement led to a stake in the company worth $500 million when Facebook went public in 2012.

Hughes left Facebook in 2007. Now he believes that Facebook and its industry peers like Google and Amazon should be paying the users whose data made the companies rich.

“Data is the common wealth that we’re all creating for the future century, and we shouldn’t tie our economic outcomes to it so only a few people are getting extremely wealthy,” Hughes said at a panel Monday (April 30) at the Milken Institute 2018 Global Conference in Los Angeles.

Hughes proposed setting up a fund that would work much like the sovereign wealth fund that pays Alaska residents dividends from the US state’s oil revenues. It would be funded by a tax on companies that collect and store a substantial amount of users’ personal data. Individuals would then receive annual or monthly checks from the fund. The “data dividend,” as Hughes put it, would compensate people for the use of the data they’ve generated.

“It’s that classic win-win that our society is so obsessed with. In this model, the companies still get to keep innovating, and consumers get their cut of it,” Hughes said.

In a more detailed outline of the plan in the Guardian, Hughes wrote that a 5% tax on the gross revenues of Facebook, Google, banks, credit card companies, and similar organizations could generate some $100 billion a year, resulting in about $400 per year for every US adult according to Hughes’s estimate. The idea is in its early stages, clearly: Figuring out what companies should pay, and who should be paid, is a daunting task for a regulatory system that has struggled to take on tech as it is. But it’s an intriguing one.