Assigning Property Rights to Internet Data Creators

(p. C3) Congress has stepped up talk of new privacy regulations in the wake of the scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, which improperly gained access to the data of as many as 87 million Facebook users. Even Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg testified that he thought new federal rules were “inevitable.” But to understand what regulation is appropriate, we need to understand the source of the problem: the absence of a real market in data, with true property rights for data creators. Once that market is in place, implementing privacy protections will be easy.
We often think of ourselves as consumers of Facebook, Google, Instagram and other internet services. In reality, we are also their suppliers–or more accurately, their workers. When we post and label photos on Facebook or Instagram, use Google maps while driving, chat in multiple languages on Skype or upload videos to YouTube, we are generating data about human behavior that the companies then feed into machine-learning programs.
These programs use our personal data to learn patterns that allow them to imitate human behavior and understanding. With that information, computers can recognize images, translate languages, help viewers choose among shows and offer the speediest route to the mall. Companies such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft (where one of us works) sell these tools to other companies. They also use our data to match advertisers with consumers.
Defenders of the current system often say that we don’t give away our personal data for free. Rather, we’re paid in the form of the services that we receive. But this exchange is bad for users, bad for society and probably not ideal even for the tech companies. In a real market, consumers would have far more power over the exchange: Here’s my data. What are you willing to pay for it?
An internet user today probably would earn only a few hundred dollars a year if companies paid for data. But that amount could grow substantially in the coming years. If the economic reach of AI systems continues to expand–into drafting legal contracts, diagnosing diseases, performing surgery, making investments, driving trucks, managing businesses–they will need vast amounts of data to function.
And if these systems displace human jobs, people will have plenty of time to supply that data. Tech executives fearful that AI will cause mass unemployment have advocated a universal basic income funded by increased taxes. But the pressure for such policies would abate if users were simply compensated for their data.

For the full commentary, see:
Eric A. Posner and E. Glen Weyl. “Want Our Personal Data? Pay for It.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 21, 2018): C3.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 20, 2018.)

The commentary quoted above, is based on:
Posner, Eric A., and E. Glen Weyl. Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018.

Lenin “Sought to Destroy” Russian Peasants

(p. B14) A forceful, stylish writer with a sweeping view of history, Professor Pipes covered nearly 600 years of the Russian past in “Russia Under the Old Regime,” abandoning chronology and treating his subject by themes, such as the peasantry, the church, the machinery of state and the intelligentsia.
One of his most original contributions was to locate many of Russia’s woes in its failure to evolve beyond its status as a patrimonial state, a term he borrowed from the German sociologist Max Weber to characterize Russian absolutism, in which the czar not only ruled but also owned his domain and its inhabitants, nullifying the concepts of private property and individual freedom.
With “The Russian Revolution” (1990), Professor Pipes mounted a frontal assault on many of the premises and long-held convictions of mainstream Western specialists on the Bolshevik seizure of power. That book, which began with the simple Russian epigraph “To the victims,” took a prosecutorial stance toward the Bolsheviks and their leader, Vladimir Lenin, who still commanded a certain respect and sympathy among Western historians.
Professor Pipes, a moralist shaped by his experiences as a Jew who had fled the Nazi occupation of Poland, would have none of it. He presented the Bolshevik Party as a conspiratorial, deeply unpopular clique rather than the spearhead of a mass movement. He shed new and harsh light on the Bolshevik campaign against the peasantry, which, he argued, Lenin had sought to destroy as a reactionary class. He also accused Lenin of laying the foundation of the terrorist state that his successor, Joseph Stalin, perfected.
“I felt and feel to this day that I have been spared not to waste my life on self-indulgence and self-aggrandizement but to spread a moral message by showing, using examples from history, how evil ideas lead to evil consequences,” Professor Pipes wrote in a memoir. “Since scholars have written enough on the Holocaust, I thought it my mission to demonstrate this truth using the example of communism.”
. . .
In “The Russian Revolution,” he wrote:
“The Russian Revolution was made neither by the forces of nature nor by anonymous masses but by identifiable men pursuing their own advantages. Although it has spontaneous aspects, in the main it was the result of deliberate action. As such it is very properly subject to value judgment.”

For the full obituary, see:
William Grimes. “Richard Pipes, Historian Of Russia and Adviser To Reagan, Dies at 94.” The New York Times (Friday, May 18, 2018): B14.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date May 17, 2018, and has the title “Richard Pipes, Historian of Russia and Reagan Aide, Dies at 94.”)

The early Pipes book, mentioned above, is:
Pipes, Richard. Russia under the Old Regime. revised 2nd ed. London, England: Penguin Books, 1997 [1st ed. 1974].

The later Pipes book, mentioned above, is:
Pipes, Richard. The Russian Revolution. revised 2nd ed. New York: Knopf, 1990.

Paying Consumers for Their Data

(p. B4) WASHINGTON–For every link you click, every photo you post, every word you search, somebody markets the data to advertisers seeking to target you. Consumer data is a valuable commodity, and that is one reason Google, Facebook and others let you use their platforms at no cost.
An Australian app maker called Unlockd thinks it has a better idea: The consumer should get a cut of this mobile-data business, in the form of rewards or other incentives. Other newcomers and smaller firms are taking a similar tack. Should this approach take off, some see it becoming a viable alternative to the ad model driving big platforms like Alphabet Inc.’s Google.

For the full story, see:
McKinnon, John D. “Startup Wants to Reward Your Clicking.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 10, 2018): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 9, 2018, and has the title “Startup Takes on Google With a New Approach: Rewards for Users.”)

Google Further Reduces Small Payments to Content Creators

YouTube is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Google.

(p. A15) SAN FRANCISCO — The authorities believe a woman who shot three people at YouTube’s headquarters before killing herself on Tuesday [April 3, 2018] was angered by the social media outlet’s policies.
While the police did not specifically say what those policies were, they likely had to do with a concept called “demonetization.”
. . .
One of those creators was Nasim Najafi Aghdam, the woman the police said had shot YouTube employees in San Bruno, Calif. She frequently posted videos to several YouTube channels and had become increasingly angry over the money she was making from them.
“My Revenue For 300,000 Views Is $0.10?????” Ms. Aghdam wrote on her website, while calling YouTube “a dictatorship.”
. . .
Video creators take a share of the money from ads running before or alongside their videos. But YouTube has been raising the bar on qualifications for running ads.
Last April, the company said it would set a requirement for 10,000 cumulative lifetime views before allowing videos to gain ads. In January, the company raised that requirement to 4,000 hours of watch time in the past year and 1,000 subscribers.

For the full story, see:
NELLIE BOWLES and JACK NICAS. “YouTube Complaints From Attacker Echoed Fight Over Ad Dollars.” The New York Times (Thursday, April 5, 2018): A15.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 4, 2018, and has the title “YouTube Attacker’s Complaints Echoed Fight Over Ad Dollars.”)

Blockchain Could Give People “Ownership of Their Own Data”

(p. B1) The first blockchain was created in 2009 as a new kind of database for the virtual currency Bitcoin, where all transactions could be stored without any banks or governments involved.
Now, countless entrepreneurs, companies and governments are looking to use similar databases — often independent of Bitcoin — to solve some of the most intractable issues facing society.
“People feel the need to move away from something like Facebook and toward something that allows them to have ownership of their own data,” said Ryan Shea, a co-founder of Blockstack, a New York company working with blockchain technology.
The creator of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, has said the blockchain could help reduce the big internet companies’ influence and return the web to his original vision.
. . .
(p. B4) Blockstack has built a way to record the basic details about your identity on a blockchain database and then use that identity to set up accounts with other online projects that are built on top of it.
The animating force behind the project is that users — rather than Blockstack or any other company — would end up in control of all the data they generate with any online service.
Blockstack is one of several blockchain-based projects hoping to create a new generation of online services that don’t rely on having unfettered access to our personal information.
The idea has gained enough steam that in the days after news of Facebook’s relationship with Cambridge Analytica broke, Twitter was filled with people calling for blockchain-based alternatives.

For the full story, see:

NATHANIEL POPPER. “Tech’s Answer For Security: Blockchain.” The New York Times (Monday, April 2, 2018): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 1, 2018, and has the title “Tech Thinks It Has a Fix for the Problems It Created: Blockchain.”)

Blockchain Tested to Speed Property Transfers

(p. B8) The blockchain technology that underpins cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin could change the way property deals are done and recorded more than any other new technology, real-estate and technology experts say.
And Sweden’s nearly 400-year-old land mapping and registration authority is likely to become one of the first government agencies to test using blockchain technology for conducting property sales.
The Lantmäteriet expects to conduct the first such transaction in the next few months and is shortlisting volunteers who want to buy or sell a property using the blockchain system. “From the technology point of view, we are quite ready,” said Mats Snäll, Lantmäteriet’s chief digital officer.
Proponents of blockchain say the technology would make recording and transferring titles faster and much more efficient. Transactions that today take months to complete could take days or even hours, they say.
Blockchain technology also is practically bulletproof when it comes to fraudulent transactions, experts say.

For the full story, see:
Shefali Anand. “Test of Blockchain for Real Estate Is Readied.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, March 7, 2018): B8.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 6, 2018, and has the title “A Pioneer in Real Estate Blockchain Emerges in Europe.”)

Value of Property Rights Now Seen by One Who Seized Land

(p. 4) MAZOWE, Zimbabwe — The police first came early one morning five years ago, catching villagers by surprise as they worked in their fields. As hundreds of anti-riot police officers jumped down from their vehicles, their commander issued the villagers an order.
“He said that mother and daughter Grace Mugabe wanted this place,” recalled a village leader, Denboy Chaparadza. “So you better move away.”
The villagers understood right away: Grace Mugabe, the wife of Robert Mugabe, who was ousted from power in November after 37 years as Zimbabwe’s leader, and their daughter, Bona, coveted the villagers’ land. The Mugabes already owned property and businesses in Mazowe, about 25 miles north of Harare, the capital, and they were eager to expand.
Before the villagers could object, the police, armed with sticks and iron bars, demolished their modest houses. “Every house,” Mr. Chaparadza said. “They left us out in the open. We felt betrayed.”
. . .
One reason the 146 families who lived in Mazowe felt betrayed by their leader was that they themselves had seized the land from a white farmer in 2000, under Mr. Mugabe’s fast-track land reform program. Now, they risked losing everything to his wife and daughter: 3,100 acres of prime land for farming and cattle ranching that abuts a lake and gold mines.
. . .
Determining who owns the land is a necessary step to development and democratization in Zimbabwe. Nearly all Zimbabweans who benefited from Mr. Mugabe’s land reform policy lack titles, or legal ownership of their property — leaving them at the mercy of the politically powerful.
. . .
Land also remains a tool of political control, one that Mr. Mnangagwa and other leaders of the governing ZANU-PF party have never shown a willingness to relinquish.
. . .
In recent years, as fighting over succession intensified inside ZANU-PF, land was used to punish and to keep people in line.
High-ranking officials expelled from the party had their land seized, or suffered repeated incursions into their properties by party youths. The threat of losing their farms led some officials to stay in ZANU-PF, instead of decamping to new opposition parties.
. . .
Mr. Chaparadza, the village leader, said that as part of any resolution of the land issue, the new government should compensate white farmers.
“Even if they come back, that’s fine as long as they give us another place,” he said. “We won’t deny them. What we need is only some land where we can survive — and title to the land.”

For the full story, see:
NORIMITSU ONISHI. “Land Issue Stands in Zimbabwe’s Path.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, January 21, 2018): 4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 20, 2018, and has the title “Resolving Who Owns What Land Lies at Heart of Zimbabwe’s Future.”)