Yesterday, Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook and one of Mark Zuckerberg’s college roommates, wrote a New York Times Op-Ed proposing that Facebook be broken up. I’m not a big proponent of government intervention intended to stifle the growth of large successful businesses. But, Chris’s arguments are compelling. For example, he says of Mark’s 60% ownership of Facebook shares:

Mark alone can decide how to configure Facebook’s algorithms to determine what people see in their News Feeds, what privacy settings they can use and even which messages get delivered.

Although, in my view, Chris misrepresents the intent of the American constitution when he says…

America was built on the idea that power should not be concentrated in any one person, because we are all fallible. 

… he makes an important point about monopolies and the concentration of power.

I have heard an interesting counter-argument to Chris’ contention that Facebook is like AT&T once was and that competition is not an issue. The argument goes like this:

“Facebook provides their services for free and, since they aren’t selling anything to users and aren’t exchanging money for access, this can’t be about monopoly and antitrust”.

Perhaps there is a long debate to ensue. But I want to give you my opinion with one simple concept:

<<<<< DATA HAS VALUE >>>>>

To me this is unquestionably an antitrust issue. Every time I point my browser at Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp (I don’t actually use the latter) I am exchanging my personal data for the services I’m consuming. I know I’m doing this and I only do it because I get value from these services. I’m exchanging something of value for something else of value.

The problem is that if I don’t like Facebook software, I have no other choice. I can’t move to another social platform (no, Twitter isn’t a substitute), and I can’t just stop using these apps without sacrificing my network of relationships. (After all, Facebook was established for what appeared to be a really cool purpose and that is something I embrace).

In my estimation, then, I’ve exchanging a value (my data) for a service (my network) and the value I exchange is put to productive reuse by Facebook (they sell my data to advertisers and use it to drive my experience). So, my valuable data is  exchanged and re-exchanged just like currency. If I have only one choice about who to give my data to then that is the data version of antitrust, the “not a monopoly” argument dies instantly.

Should Facebook be broken up? You decide. But, does Mark Zuckerberg own a monopoly? Unquestionably.

Mark Zuckerberg gives me a network every day. In exchange I hand him a piece of my ever-growing “dataganger”. Billions of us do that every day and that is called a concentration of power.

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