CAPE TOWN – There would be no social network or search engine without users.
At the same time, the users would not be as connected online or experience the ease of access to information as they do now due to services offered by the major social network and search engine.
The deal was similar for media companies as well, big tech platforms offered a distribution channel and media companies offered content.
The freemium model that is the foundation of major tech giants works on this basis.
Tech giants offer something for free in return for connection and ease of access to information. In turn, they monetise user data, although without much transparency with users.
At the beginning of it all, there was a form of the social contract between users and tech giants that one will receive and the others will provide. This social contract, however, is now broken.
The data of users has been used in ways that users never imagined. Media companies have in the process lost revenues that have now been rechannelled to social networks such as Facebook and search engines such as Google.
Data has been proclaimed to have surpassed oil as the world’s most valuable asset. Companies such as Facebook and Google have built data-rich monopolies that remorselessly mine the digital assets and behaviours of their users.
They use their privileged access to user data to sell back to them, taking an increasing slice of the economic cake and accumulating disproportionate power and wealth. Facebook is now the world’s biggest data broker. Its business model is based solely on extracting value from user personal digital assets.
The media, a major user of tech giants in the form of being a distribution channel, has worked hard to produce content that has been a key part of search engines and social network giants.
Their ability to continue producing content is now shaky. In the long run, the media will no longer be able to become a protector of democracies without a sustainable business model, which has been disrupted by tech giants such as Facebook and Google. We are now witnessing the rise of fake news taking centre stage online. If this is allowed to continue, we are likely to get less quality news on search engines and social networks
The scale is no longer balanced. The producers of content are treated unfairly by tech giants. The major victim is the media industry.
The Australians are now working out a solution.
One of the country’s largest media companies, Nine, headed by a former federal treasurer, has suggested Facebook and Google should compensate media companies up to $432 million (about R7.3billion) for use of their content in Australia.
Both tech giants are unhappy about the move by Australians to demand fair compensation for news content.
There’s no doubt that there’s now a need for a new social contract between users, media companies, and big tech companies such as Google and Facebook. Attempts at correcting this situation in other parts of the world have failed and Australia has become the latest country to do so.
African media entities, however, have done nothing to challenge big tech giants to compensate them for the content they produce.
It is now time that African media entities begin a process of ensuring that there’s fair compensation for content produced by media companies. It is also time for content producers in Africa to be paid for their data online.
Wesley Diphoko is editor-in-chief of Fast Company (SA). You can follow him on Twitter via @WesleyDiphoko