Do we have ownership of our digital assets?
Ownership of digital goodsDigital goods have been presented by some scholars as potentially liberating consumers from the burdens of ownership. Indeed, recent years have seen the emergence of an array of access-based models in the digital realm. Netflix has 83 million subscribers compared to 44 million in 2014, while the number of paying Spotify subscribers has reached 40 million, a week after Apple Music announced 17m subscribers (information from the Financial Times – you need a subscription to access these articles).
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Digital Marketing: Challenges and Insights
Lack of StabilitySubscription-based business models such as Spotify and Netflix clearly position access to digital goods as temporary.Yet in the case of content hosted online there may be a perception of permanence but no guarantee of continued access. Accounts may be terminated where consumers are seen to have violated the company’s terms, the service may be discontinued, whilst data loss is another potential risk.When consumers’ relationships with content is functional and framed as accessing a service this lack of continuity is less problematic.However, Watkins and Molesworth (2012) demonstrate that consumers can form strong emotional attachments to digital goods within videogames, many of which exist within massive multiplayer online games. One participant, for instance, talks lovingly of her World of Warcraft avatar, describing her as ‘my baby’ (Watkins and Molesworth, 2012, p.162).However, World of Warcraft provider Blizzard Entertainment retains the right to terminate this individual’s account ‘for any reason or no reason, with or without notice’ (Blizzard, 2015).Increasingly we see companies encouraging consumers to engage in meaningful relationships with web-based platforms and hosted content.For instance in 2011, as part of their ‘The Web is what you make of it’ campaign, Google released an advertisement featuring a father sending anecdotes, photographs and videos to his daughter via email throughout her childhood with the intention of one day reflecting on these emails together.Here it seems that Google is encouraging its users to create treasured digital scrapbooks using its services.Indeed, it has been estimated that 5% of children under two are estimated to have a social media profile, with new parents religiously uploading treasured photographs and leaving meaningful messages to be read together in years to come.However, consumers cannot rest assured that these lovingly crafted digital scrapbooks will remain available for their children to show to their own offspring or reflect upon in old age.
SummaryAside from fully owned digital goods and clearly positioned access models, an array of more complex and limited ownership structures exist which may have significant consequences for consumers.It is difficult to imagine crafting a coffee table only to realise that we cannot take it with us to our new home, leave it behind when we pass away, or even be assured of its permanence, however, similar restrictions are placed on many digital goods.Such restrictions become particularly problematic given the multitude of evidence to suggest that EULAs and Terms of Service agreements are rarely read.Indeed, even where contractual agreements are read, their content may leave the consumer confused as to exactly what rights they hold. This may result in tensions where a corporation sees its offering as access to a service, but the consumer comes to perceive digital goods as possessions.Perhaps most worrying is the existence of digital goods within platforms owned and controlled by corporations who are able to change the terms of contractual agreements at any time.Public policy still needs to catch up with these developments – whilst the online privacy agenda is well established we are yet to see how consumers might regain rights to their digital possessions.
Digital Marketing: Challenges and Insights
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