Paying People For Data Can Fix Facebook, Says Virtual Reality Pioneer Jaron Lanier

Kevin Mwanza
Written by Kevin Mwanza
Jaron Lanier
Virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier proposes a solution for Facebook’s data privacy issues. Photo: Luca Vanzella via Flickr

Facebook should change its business model to a paid service that compensates users for their data if it wants to solve its data privacy issues, according to virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier.

Facebook agreed to pay $5 billion in fines to the Federal Trade Commission over privacy violations and its failure to inform tens of millions of users about a data leak that happened years ago. It’s the largest fine a U.S. regulator has levied to a tech firm.

Facebook was also required to take steps to protect user privacy.

Facebook announced a new app, Study, in June that would pay users to share data on what they are doing on other apps on their smartphones.

This came after Apple cracked down on Facebook in June 2018 and January 2019 for similar apps that paid users as young as 13 for extensive data on their phone usage.


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American computer scientist Lanier is considered a founding father of virtual reality tech after establishing VPL Research, Inc. in 1985 — the first company to sell VR goggles and gloves.

“What we really need are incentives that are aligned with people, customers and everybody. Right now it’s not clear who actually benefits,” said Lanier, a research scholar at Microsoft, in a CNBC interview.

“In the case of Facebook, I really believe it has to turn to a business that’s more like Netflix where people pay to use it and I also believe people need to be paid when their data is used. When people are paid for data, that undoes the incentive to misuse the data.”

Lanier said users should have a “moral right” to their data and be paid royalties every time it is used to avoid a situation where tech firms like Facebook hoard the data and use it as they wish. He believes this would give the user control over their data.

“The way you get paid has to be on a royalty basis so that they can’t hoard the data. (The user) holds the data and is paid when it’s used.”