Some of Facebook’s harshest critics – since the company first came under pressure for purportedly not doing enough to stanch the flow of fake news on its platform and allowing Russian troll farms to post disingenuous advertisements – have been former employees and investors who have acknowledged that the company’s unchecked expansion has come at a cost: Tearing apart the social fabric.
But in what is perhaps the highest-profile defection, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, who helped start the company along with Mark Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskowitz and Eduardo Saverin during their days living and working together at Harvard, is now calling on lawmakers to consider a data tax that could potentially cost Facebook and other tech giants like Google, Twitter and Snapchat billions in additional taxes.
The purpose of the data tax, Hughes says, is to more evenly distribute the wealth produced by the sale or marketing of our sensitive user data, which is collected en masse by these websites.
“We need to be having a bigger conversation about our data who owns our data and the wealth that it creates – as well as creating a way for all Facebook users to share in that benefit.”
The tax would then be used to establish a fund, which would then pay a data dividend to every American – essentially a tech funded appendage to the social security infrastructure.
“A data tax of about 5% on companies that use massive amounts of data could fund a “data dividend” to each American of about $400 a year and if the amount of data that we produce about ourselves continues to grow as most people expect that could grow to $1,000 a year pretty soon.”
“Right now, hundreds of billions of dollars are made from these services off that data.”
While ABC (correctly) points out that this plan seems unlikely to become reality, Hughes insists that there’s already “a model” for this in the US.
And that model is the Alaska Permanent Fund, an oil-funded payment made every year to each Alaska citizen.
“Up in Alaska they’ve done this. They had oil that was discovered in the 1970s and a Republican governor said okay oil companies you can tap into our natural resources, but you’ve got to pay up.”
The system wouldn’t even cost much to implement. They payouts could be directed through the same system used to distribute social security.
“Following the Alaska model, creating a savings account for each person, you could use the infrastructure that Social Security already provides. The pipe in some sense are already laid it’s just a question of developing the political will to lay claim to what I think is our fair share.”
Though Hughes hasn’t spoken with Zuckerberg about his plan, he correctly pointed out that his former business partner had acknowledged that user data harvested by Facebook does belong to its users.
“If the data on Facebook is our property and we’re allowing Facebook to use it to sell ads, I think it’s reasonable to say we should share in that upside.”
Somehow we don’t think that Zuckerberg, who has already beaten back calls for his resignation, would so gamely agree to a massive tax hike that would significantly impact his company’s profitability.
We imagine that, if he didn’t, it’d be significantly more difficult for him to convince the company’s shareholders that he’s the only one capable of running Facebook.