Facebook and the Value of Free Data

The information technology market is undergoing a major shift towards cloud computing.  While cloud computing only represents 2.8% of the $3.6 trillion information technology market today, analysts expect it to more than double over the next two years (Cantu, 2011).   Moreover, the economics of the cloud are so compelling this author thinks that all compute services will be delivered via the cloud in the decades to come.  Given the clear shift to the cloud, it is worthwhile to explore what cloud computing is, how it works, and potential implications of the cloud for Internet consumers and producers of content.  However, an overarching analysis of the cloud is overly ambitious given the size and scope of the market, therefore, this author will analyze the cloud using the narrow confines of a case study on Facebook, the largest social Internet application in the world.  Therefore, this author compared Facebook to the cloud market in general, and specifically explored the implications of content usage, labor, and privacy in a cloud application, like Facebook.   This author found that Facebook has remarkably similar issues with cloud vendors, and profits from user-generated data while providing only limited privacy protections, in exchange for the use value of the application.

What is Cloud Computing?

            Cloud computing is the result of advances in information technology over the last forty years, and specifically is the result of the Internet architecture.  Whereas, in the era before the network, computing power was largely in the hands of government and large corporations, the coincident revolutions of personal computers and private networks, led to a client server architecture, where application processing occurred on a client computer, and data was stored on a network server.  With the development of the Internet, a global computing network, came the possibility of a new architecture, where every layer of the architecture is centralized, including the application logic, and the network end-points are simply dumb terminals in essence.  While this description is necessarily an oversimplification, it is generally correct.

            As the Internet architecture has matured, increasingly corporations are seeking ways to improve efficiency and reduce the costs of doing business over the network.  Indeed, cost and efficiency gains have led to the advancements necessary to make cloud computing possible.  Important advancements in the shift to cloud computing include autonomic computing, service-oriented architecture, web services, virtualization, and grid computing (Cantu, 2011).  These technologies allow technology professionals to deliver each compute layer as a service, including storage, database, middleware, and applications.  Moreover, as the cloud market has matured, so has the definition.  The National Institute of Standards and Technology (2011) recently released the final draft of the cloud computing definition, conceived of as:

A model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. (p. 1)

In the strictest sense, an application like Facebook cannot be conceived of as cloud computing, because the application is not provisioned for different entities, rather it is simply an application that is available for end users.  While admittedly, the distinction is minor, it remains important.  However, Facebook is similar enough to a cloud application to warrant further analysis.  Specifically, the application logic, the infrastructure, user credentials, user information, user-generated content, and user relationship data are centralized behind Facebook’s corporate firewall.  This architecture gives rise to a number of important questions for both cloud applications and Internet applications.  For instance, what are the implications for user generated content?  Whose data is it?  Who profits from the data?  Who is both responsible and liable for data protection and privacy?  It is these questions that this author will attempt to address in the rest of the paper.

Whose Data Is It?

            When a user registers for a Facebook account, the user is required to load their name, email address, birthday, and gender (Facebook, 2012a).  No other information is required.  However, the application is of limited value without providing additional data.  Typically, users will add personally identifiable information, relationship data, preference data, status updates, location data, photos, and videos to make the application valuable.  Legally, each user is the owner of their data in the application, however the matter is complicated by the social nature of the application (Facebook, 2012b).  For example, if one user posts a photo of another user, the data is owned by the user that posted the photo, an important implication for those concerned about privacy (Facebook, 2012a).   Moreover, through the terms of agreement between Facebook and a user, users assign Facebook a “non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content [posted] on or in connection with Facebook” (Facebook, 2012b, p. 1).  Therefore, while users own the data, Facebook has the right to profit from it.

Of course, the problem with storing user data in Facebook is that like most cloud applications, the application is analogous to a roach motel, it is easy to check data in, but much tougher to check it out.  While Facebook provides a number of application programming interfaces to retrieve data (Facebook, 2012c), it requires technical expertise to access the data through anything but the native Facebook application interface.  Therefore, outside the confines of Facebook, the data is of limited use.  Moreover, the limitations of the application interface make it difficult for non-technical users to substantially transform the data to produce new works. In effect, the structure serves to constrain people from profiting from their data.

Who Profits from User Data on Facebook?

            As made clear in the previous section, while users own their data, Facebook has both the right and the architecture to assure that they are in a position to profit from user data.  In fact, the data only has value when considered in the aggregate.  For example, few would care to pay this author for knowing of a recent ski vacation.  However, a skiing manufacturer might pay a considerable sum to target active adult skiers across the country with targeted advertising for a new line of high performance skis.  Thus, Facebook profits from the free labor of 800 million users.  Indeed, with Facebook’s recent initial public offering, their finances came under intense scrutiny from the investment community.  In 2011, Facebook generated more than $3.7 billion in revenue, 82% of which came from advertising (Boorstin, 2012).  With more than 500 million monthly active users, and 125 billion friend connections, Facebook provides advertisers a platform with reach, relevance, and most importantly, a social context for product recommendations (Boorstin, 2012).  For example, if this author creates a post highlighting the purchase of a set of high-performance skis, the ski manufacturer might send targeted advertising to other skiers in the author’s network.

Croteau, Hoynes, and Milan (2012) point out that firms like Facebook “harvest and harness the free labor of others to generate profits for themselves” (p. 314).  However, that perspective includes only one side of the transaction.  Facebook simply enables a transaction to occur, where users providing content receive a use value, while Facebook creates exchange value from the commodification of users.  In this sense, Facebook is simply following the business model of traditional mass media who provided television content for consumers, in exchange for commodification of consumers into an audience to bring in advertising revenue; new media indeed.  Therefore, in the case of Facebook, is there really exploitation of free labor?  Or are Facebook users receiving value from the use of the application?  This author thinks it is the latter.  In what other way can people stay connected and share their lives with friends and family as efficiently as on Facebook?  Therein lies Facebook’s use value for users.  While the exchange relationship between Facebook users, the company, and advertisers captures the essence of the business model, the business model itself raises significant concerns over the security and privacy of the data that fuels Facebook’s revenue.

Debates over data security and privacy have raged over the last two decades as society has attempted to come to terms with the implications of the growing amount of data.  Facebook in particular, has come under intense public scrutiny for a series of data privacy policy changes over the last six years that erode data privacy for users (Electronic Privacy Information Center, 2012).  Moreover, Facebook recently stands accused of matching Facebook data with data from Datalogix to improve ad targeting, in potential violation of a recent privacy settlement with the FTC (Electronic Privacy Information Center, 2012).  In fact, Facebook no longer has a privacy policy, rather they express their point of view in a data use policy (Facebook, 2012a).  While Facebook has taken steps to improve data security by adopting HTTPS as an optional user setting, the company increasingly is altering their data use policy to introduce new capabilities that grow revenue at the expense of user privacy (Electronic Privacy Information Center, 2012).  In short, until users decide that costs, in the form of privacy loss, outweigh the use value, it is unlikely Facebook will change their data use policy in a way that favors improved privacy protection.



            Technology companies like Facebook have an amazing business model.  The company has figured out how to generate immense revenues from the data that people provide about themselves, their friends, and their family, in exchange for a more efficient way to keep in touch.  By locking the user data into the Facebook application, Facebook assures that the data is only useful to Facebook.  Moreover, given the legal terms associated with use of the application, users readily grant Facebook the license to profit from the invasion of their privacy.  Future research should explore whether the development of open standards for social relationship data portability could spur the company to provide greater privacy protection based on the threat of customer churn, in much the same way that cell phone number portability enabled greater choice and competition in the wireless industry.


Boorstin, J. (2012). Inside Facebook’s money machine. Techbiz.  Retrieved from http://money.msn.com/technology-investment/post.aspx?post=869a1b6c-0bb7-47b3-ac0a-25d10f6a5404

Cantu, A. (2011). The History and Future of Cloud Computing. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/dell/2011/12/20/the-history-and-future-of-cloud-computing/2/

Croteau, D., Hoynes, W., & Milan, S. (2012). Media/society : Industries, images, and audiences (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Electronic Privacy Information Center. (2012). Facebook Privacy. Retreived from http://epic.org/privacy/facebook/

Facebook. (2012a). Data Use Policy. Retrieved from http://www.facebook.com/about/privacy/your-info

Facebook. (2012b). Facebook Terms. Retrieved from http://www.facebook.com/legal/terms

Facebook. (2012c). Graph API – Facebook Developers. Retrieved from http://developers.facebook.com/docs/reference/api/

National Institute of Standards and Technology. (2011). Final Version of NIST Cloud Computing Definition Published. Retrieved from http://www.nist.gov/itl/csd/cloud-102511.cfm


Leveraging Tragedy: Bias in the Media

On July 20th of 2012, Jim Holmes walked into the midnight premiere of the movie The Dark Knight Rises and killed 12 people, and wounding another 59 before being apprehended by local police (KUSA-TV, 2012).  As the event unfolded, media organizations across the nation and the globe mobilized and began extensive coverage of the shooting that continues to this day.   While much of the initial coverage focused on the factuality of the event, there were errors that some in the media considered evidence of bias.   Most notably, was the suggestion by Brian Ross of ABC News, that the shooter might have links to the Tea Party, a mistake that some suggest is evidence of liberal bias in the media (Goldberg, 2012; Irvine, 2012; Scott, 2012).  Furthermore, Scott (2012), a Fox News commentator, suggested liberal bias extended beyond ABCs factual blunder towards politicization of gun use, noting the “media coverage of the movie theater massacre in Colorado spark[ed] another one-sided debate on gun control” (p. 2).  After completing a critical evaluation of the media event that included a traditional content analysis, this author found that the charges of bias are likely justified, although not one-sided; rather, bias appears to be a de facto presence in news media, despite the western journalistic norm of objectivity.


In order to understand whether Scott’s (2012) charge of media bias did or did not have merit, this author critically evaluated the news coverage of the shooting against McQuail’s (2010) standard of objectivity.  In addition, a basic content analysis was conducted to determine the extent to which the subject of gun control was associated with the shooting story, analyzing the total number of articles on the theater shooting on mainstream print and broadcast media organization’s websites, comparing that with how many articles associated the theater shooting with either gun control.  Moreover, the number of articles that associated gun control with the shooting were compared with Kohut and Remez’s (2009) report identifying public perception of news network ideology to determine whether the perceived ideology was associated with the amount of coverage. Finally, this author commented on the potential sources of bias in the coverage.

Evaluation of Objectivity: The Brian Ross Incident

            During a Good Morning America segment on the theater shooting with George Stephanopolis, Brian Ross described significant information related to the shooting, indicating, “There is a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado, page on the Colorado tea party site as well. Talking about him joining the tea party last year. Now, we don’t know if this the same Jim Holmes, but this is Jim Holmes, Aurora, Colorado” (Byers, 2012, p. 1).  Of course, it turned out later that a completely different Jim Holmes was responsible for the shooting.  To what degree did Brian Ross’s statement meet the standard of objectivity?  According to McQuail (2010), information quality reflects the broadly shared public interest in reliable information from trusted source “that matches the reality of experience” (p. 200).  Westerstahl (1983) described the main components of objectivity as factuality and impartiality.   While the information was clearly not factual, it may or may not have been impartial.  It appears that Ross may have jumped directly to an existing liberal narrative of the Tea Party as right-wing extremists without checking sources to verify the factuality of the claim, certainly an error in professional judgment.  Potential sources of bias include either Ross’s socialization and attitudes, or an organizational routine that took shortcuts in order to capture audience share.  In either case, the information presented was neither factual, nor impartial, and therefore does not meet the standard for objectivity. 

The Theater Shooting and the Guns Debate

            While there appears to be some validity to Scott’s (2012) charge of bias against Ross, Scott also suggested a broader bias by the media to use the theater shooting to have a “one-sided” debate regarding gun control, conceivably to influence the public to take action to limit guns in some way.  In order to critically examine the charge of bias, this author conducted a traditional content analysis based on Berelson’s (1952) definition using the following parameters:

Table 1

Content Analysis Parameters



Universe or sample

Mainstream U.S. print and broadcast media websites

Category frame

Original articles in the last 30 days

Unit of analysis

Articles referring to “theater shooting” and articles referring to “theater shooting” AND “gun control”

Table 1. Parameters for traditional content analysis of media bias in theater shooting coverage.

The websites analyzed included the CBS News, ABC News, NBC News, CNN, Fox News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, and the Washington Post.  Each source was categorized based on their public perception, where the public perception of the broadcast media was based on Kohut and Remez (2009).  The print media did not have a third party referent for public perception of bias, therefore this author categorized the print media based on internal views of liberal or conservative bias.  The results are outlined below:

Table 2

Data from content analysis



Perceived Bias

# Articles on “theater shooting”

# Articles on “theater shooting” AND “gun control”

% of coverage with political interpretation





































NY Times






Washington Post












Table 2.  Data collected during content analysis of theater shooting coverage.

The information in Table 2 was analyzed to determine the degree to which the story was covered by mainstream media along liberal and conservative lines and the degree to which the story was interpreted by the media in a broader political context.  The analysis was limited insofar as did not include a qualitative interpretation as to the direction of the bias.  The results are outlined below:

Table 3

Results of content analysis


Perceived Bias

Total # of Articles

Median # articles

% of coverage with political interpretation

Bias towards selection Liberal






Tendency towards politicization Liberal








Table 3.  Analysis of selection bias and tendency towards politicization of theater shooting coverage along conservative and liberal lines.



It is clear that media organizations perceived as liberal by the public provided far more coverage of the story than did their conservative counterparts.  Equally clear, is that media organizations perceived as conservative were far likelier to provide a political interpretation of the story for their audience, in the broader context of the gun control narrative.  While the shooting was a key event, the public significance of the shooting triggered mediahype, where extensive coverage of the event and subsequent manufactured events created a media frenzy that media organizations were likely able to monetize.  Indeed, The Pew Research Center For The People & The Press (2012) found that the shooting overwhelmingly held audience interest over other stories, lending credence to the idea that the coverage of the tragedy was a commercial boon to most media organizations, perhaps a cause for the extensive coverage.

Given the economic potential of coverage, why then did the conservative press cover the story far less than the liberal press?  Perhaps the story did not fit into existing conservative narratives on gun rights?  Given the lack of a qualitative analysis, it is impossible to tell.  Equally so, the story may have served the liberal media both commercially, and in terms of their political narrative on the importance of gun control, both powerful influences to select and politicize the story.  Accordingly, both liberal and conservative organizations appear to be biased in their selection and presentation of the story.


Charges of media bias are commonplace and may very well be accurate in some cases, given that bias is likely structural, given the wide variety of forces influencing media.  Scott’s (2012) charge of bias on the part of the liberal media is supported by this author’s analysis, although it was not one-sided as was suggested.  Rather, bias appeared to be a persistent presence in both liberal and conservative media organizations, or a fact of life in professional news organizations, despite their professed norms of objectivity.




Berelson, B. (1952). Content analysis in communication research. Glencoe, Ill.,: Free Press.

Byers, D. (2012, July 20, 2012). ABC draws possible Tea Party connection with alleged Aurora shooter  Retrieved August 5, 2012, from http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2012/07/aurora-abc-draws-possible-tea-party-connection-129568.html

Goldberg, J. (2012, July 24, 2012). Goldberg: TV reporter’s mistake is proof of media bias  Retrieved August 5, 2012, from http://www.chron.com/opinion/outlook/article/Goldberg-TV-reporter-s-mistake-is-proof-of-media-3731943.php

Irvine, D. (2012). ABC Ties Colorado Shooter to Tea Party—Apologizes Later.  Retrieved from http://www.aim.org/don-irvine-blog/abc-ties-colorado-shooter-to-tea-party-apologizes-later/

Kohut, A., & Remez, M. (2009). Fox News Viewed as Most Ideological Network. Washington DC: The Pew Research Center For The People & The Press.

KUSA-TV. (2012, July 22, 2012). Suspect named James Holmes in custody, 12 dead in Aurora movie theater shooting, 58 wounded  Retrieved August 5, 2012, from http://www.9news.com/rss/story.aspx?storyid=278707

McQuail, D. (2010). Mcquail’s mass communication theory (6th ed.). London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Scott, J. (Writer). (2012). Fox News Watch: How the media covered the Colorado massacre: Fox News Network.

The Pew Research Center For The People & The Press. (2012, August 1, 2012). Colorado Rampage Tops News Interest for July  Retrieved August 5, 2012, from http://www.people-press.org/2012/08/01/colorado-rampage-tops-news-interest-for-july/

Westerstahl, J. (1983). Objective news reporting. Communication Research, 10(3), 403-424.


Constructive Conflict: A Leadership Moment

Conflict is inherent in sports, as individuals and teams compete against one another to win.  In football, hockey, and boxing, people intentionally hit each other to gain an advantage.  Even in basketball, where there are distinct rules to avoid contact, there is significant contact “in the paint”, and players often injure each other as they vie for advantage.  Despite conflict’s central role in sports, “on the court” conflicts are not usually considered the type of conflict that is resolved using communication-based conflict management techniques.  However, there is often considerable conflict “off the court”, at times the result of a complex array of needs and expectations amongst various actors including parents, athletes, coaches, and fans.  Poole (2012), describes one such conflict, between a player and coach, a result of differing expectations of playing time between the actors.  The case highlights how relationship uncertainty, attribution without communication, and relationship economics work to keep the conflict in the initiation phase, whereas relationship-centered communication is a leadership opportunity to collaboratively resolve the conflict and improve the team.


The case study revolves around a conflict between the coach and one of the players, where the player seeks a greater role during games, while the coach is confident in their decision-making and appears unwilling to meet the player’s expectations of more playing time (Poole, 2012).  Poole (2012) describes the conflict from the point of view of the player:

You go to practice and work as hard as anyone else, and know all the plays. You previously went to your coach and asked why you weren’t playing in the games. You felt that he had favorite players, and since they didn’t include you, you weren’t receiving the opportunities that you should as a member of the team. The coach replied that since he picked the team, he owned it, and he would decide who played. He suggested that you quit if you didn’t like it. (p. 1)

The case describes a conflict that appears to be stuck in the initiation phase, without an obvious path forward to resolution, given the apparent finality of the discussion.  Failure to bring the conflict to resolution has inherent risks for the player, the team, and the coach, insofar as the conflict has the potential to lead to a confrontation avoidance cycle.  In particular, the relationship may suffer from the chilling effect, where “one person in the relationship withholds grievances from the other, usually due to fear of the other person’s reaction” (Abigail & Cahn, 2011, p. 29).

According to Abigail and Cahn (2011), the chilling effect can lead to decreased level of communication, decreased commitment, and eventual death of the relationship.  The possibility that the relationship between player and coach could suffer from the chilling effect is apparent, given the coach appears willing to end the relationship, rather than work to resolve the conflict.  Of course, the player has an equal role in the conflict, insofar as the player does not appear to consider the needs of the coach or the team.  To fully understand the perspectives of both actors, this author will first analyze the situation from a theoretical perspective, before arriving at a recommendation.

Theoretical Perspective

To analyze the theoretical perspectives that may be at work in the conflict, this author will adopt Goffman’s (1956) dramaturgical perspective, looking at the conflict from the perspective of the player and coach roles.  The player is concerned that they are not receiving an appropriate amount of playing time based on their sense of fairness and as recognition of their effort.  In addition, the player appears to attribute the lack of playing time to favoritism on the part of the coach, an inference that may or not be reflective of the situation.  “Attribution theory states that people act as they do in conflict situations because of the inferences they make about others based on their behavior” (Abigail & Cahn, 2011, p. 216).  Moreover, people may respond aggressively when one person seeks to constrain another’s alternatives, when the act appears to intentionally do harm, and when the act appears illegitimate (Abigail & Cahn, 2011).  The coach’s role is a difficult one, as the coach must balance the goal of winning, with the needs of every player and a variety of additional actors, including parents, administrators, and fans.  Balancing these perspectives, the coach may have legitimate reasons for not playing the player, however, because the player attributes the coach’s behavior to favoritism, the player does not attempt to understand the coach’s decision-making.  In turn, the coach may believe the player is seeking to illegitimately constrain the coach’s choices, perhaps influencing the coach’s response.  While attribution theory provides insight into the behavior of both the player and coaching, social exchange theory may offer additional insight.

“Social exchange theory states that people evaluate their personal relationships in terms of their value, which is created by the costs and rewards associated with the relationship” (Abigail & Cahn, 2011, p. 220).  In the player coach relationship depicted in the case study (Poole, 2012), differing perspectives on value may be the source of conflict, as the player clearly values personal playing time, while the coach’s value orientation is opaque.  However, by adopting the role of coach, this author may infer the coach’s value orientation to provide further insight.  As such, this author believes the coach likely values winning, while also valuing team play, player development, and perhaps even their job.  The case highlights how differing value orientations can form the basis for conflict.  The coach’s willingness to end the relationship suggests that the rewards of the relationship fall below the comparison level standard perceived by the coach, likely a result of the coach’s perception of the player’s teammates, where the alternative of ending the relationship with the player is preferable when compared with the costs of meeting the player’s expectation.  Of course, the coach’s willingness to end the relationship likely creates considerable uncertainty for the player.

Uncertainty can occur both in a relationship, and within a conflict relationship, and is often the result of insufficient information (Abigail & Cahn, 2011).  The player clearly does not understand the coach’s motivation for selecting the player line-up, nor does the player know specifically what they need to do in order to realize the opportunity for additional playing time.  The uncertainty in the situation and the ambiguous motives of each actor in the case, combine to create a potential chilling effect, where the player may be unwilling to address the conflict in a productive way, given the potential implications.  The coach’s willingness to let the player leave the team introduces further uncertainty into the player’s perception of the likelihood of future play.  Moreover, the coach’s attitude may undermine the player’s level of esteem.  Maslow (1943) identifies esteem as a fundamental human need associated with confidence, achievement, and respect.  Because the coach is likely concerned with player development, the coach’s communication with the player, whether intended or not, may be incongruent with the coach’s value orientation and role as a leader.  Furthermore, given the role of coach is a leadership role, the coach has a responsibility to understand the nature of the conflict and use the conflict constructively to provide value in the leader-member exchange (LMX).

Leader-member exchange theory is a leadership theory that focuses on the dyadic social exchange process in the relationship between the leader and member (Graen & Uhl-Bein, 1995).  According to Graen and Uhl-Bein (1995), a LMX is the basis of social exchange between leaders and members, and leadership behavior can lead to high quality LMX relationships.  Moreover, high quality LMX can improve organizational commitment and improve organizational citizenship behavior (Cropanzano & Mitchell, 2005).  The case study highlights a missed opportunity on behalf of the coach to use the conflict constructively to benefit both the player and the team.


Had either, the coach or the player, taken a constructive view of the conflict, the situation could be very different.  However, as a leader, the coach has an overriding responsibility to use conflict constructively as an opportunity to help players reach their goals, while improving team outcomes.  Irrespective of responsibility, both actors in the conflict drama have the opportunity to use the conflict as an opportunity to collaborate to resolve the conflict while improving both personal and relationship growth (Abigail & Cahn, 2011).  Collaboration is a relationship-centered approach to conflict that seeks to resolve conflict and create win-win scenarios (Abigail & Cahn, 2011).  Had the player, or the coach, sought to understand each other’s needs, empathized with each other, or emphasized their common purpose, the actors may have found opportunities to collaborate.

For example, the coach, being concerned with player development, could have used the opportunity to communicate the specific improvements required of the player to increase their playing time.  Conversely, the player could have asked what specifically they needed to improve to increase playing time, rather than attribute the lack of playing time to favoritism.  However, this author suggests the responsibility largely rests with the coach.  The conflict was a coaching opportunity that could have motivated the player to improve, and provided support via future leader-member exchanges oriented toward the players development.  While it is unclear whether the player would meet the coach’s expectations of future performance, Bandura (1997) notes that expectations are the best predictor of success.


While conflict can be a source of angst and uncertainty, conflict is equally an opportunity to improve personal and relationship outcomes when used constructively.  Moreover, when conflict occurs in the leader-member exchange, constructive conflict is a leadership moment, an opportunity for a leader to teach, influence, and raise expectations of performance.  To take advantage of the leadership moment, the leader must adopt a relationship-centered approach to understand the members needs, and actively collaborate to help the member achieve their goals.  While both actors share the responsibility to initiate collaboration, the leader has a greater responsibility.  After all, leaders choose to lead.