Facebook is currently one of the most valuable companies in the world. We may ask, how is that value derived? In fact, billions of daily active users pay nothing to access the platform, no matter how much they use it. It’s completely free. The money comes from advertising. And Facebook’s entire advantage in selling ads hinges on its enormous user base. They can promise advertisers the ability to target virtually any demographic group they wish. Want NYU students in Shanghai? Facebook surely has them. Tech workers in Japan? It has them, too.
Facebook sells ads based on the information it knows about you. That is the core of their business. To view it otherwise is insane - when a service is free, you are actually not the customer. You are the product. In 2018 Facebook’s average advertising revenue per user was 24.96$ and the total advertising revenue in 2018 was 55 billion U.S. dollars, a staggering figure that only Google can be a match for.
The easiest way to reject the notion of being utilized as a product is to not sign up for it. It would be too naive to expect that your personal data and user behaviors are kept private and safe as Facebook widely claimed. Facebook has addressed this issue once. By responding that their product is social media – the ability to connect with people that matter to you, wherever they are in the world. It’s the same with a free search engine, website or newspaper. The core product is reading the news or finding information – and the ads exist to fund that experience.
So, as to whether Facebook users are actually customers or the product, it depends on how you look at it. Back in the old days, the term product is conventionally associated with a physical object with actual value or utility beneficial to its targeted customers. As the world is radically transformed by digital, the concept of product undergoes changes too. Product comes into many forms, be it physical, virtual or hybrid. By converting the digital platform Facebook into a physical object, we intend to raise the question with inventive curiosity “What is the definition of product to the largest social network on Earth?” Come to think about it - when the service is free, you are the product.
Users are invited to open Facebox without any introduction or preconception. Upon opening it, the python face detection script will run, triggering the secretly installed raspberries Pi camera to take photos. As soon as the user’s face is captured, data will be sent to the thermal printer to print out the “receipts” featuring the picture. Through this process, user are automatically considered part of the surveillance system and rendered as the product to be sold for profit. Users surely do not expect that a simple act of opening the box equals to the consent of photograph and data collection. The gap between expectations and reality as well as the feelings of surprise, confusion and discomfort are what we aimed to create. Meanwhile, Facebox will upload the receipts to the web server in real time, which will be employed in further exhibition. In this fashion, every user becomes part of the installation in a sense that is similar to Facebook - everyone is monitored on the platform at all times.