Jim Duffy comment: Why shouldn't we pay to use platforms like Google?

At last the digital tax pops up at a tablet near you. As the Chancellor introduces taxation on tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, I have to ask the question: why should they be free to you and me?

A payment system for social media and search firms is just around the corner, says Duffy. Picture: contributed.
A payment system for social media and search firms is just around the corner, says Duffy. Picture: contributed.

For years now, we have all had the opportunity to “like” people, friends, posts, tweets and a whole lot more on social media. Hours of our lives have been taken up browsing the internet via Google and other search engines, while we upload and share pictures, memes and videos. Yet, this has cost us nothing, zilch, a big fat zero. So, maybe it is time for these online heavyweights to commence a new business model that involves us paying for the services they provide.

Don’t think for one minute that the big online players in search and social media will allow any government to tax them in such a way that it will hit their bottom line and cheese off their investors. No, they will of course come out fighting on that front. You can bet your bottom dollar that they will have plan B, C and D in place to ensure that revenues stay rising and you stay hooked. But, how much would you be willing to pay to use these platforms?

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Let’s take Google first. There is not a day goes by where I do not “Google” something online. Whether it is the pound to euro exchange rate, how to unblock a sink or where the best restaurants are in a specific city, Google serves a relevant purpose for me and you. Once you get by the paid for – pay per click – advertising then the relevance of the search results is usually pretty good. It dovetails well with YouTube and works seamlessly in all devices. So, now that you do not have to buy and update an encyclopaedia every month, how much would you be willing to pay to have unrestricted access to Google?

Let me start the ball rolling and say that I would happily subscribe to the search engine each month for about £25. This seems a knockdown price for fabulous content that can be tailored to my searching history. Now, just imagine if Google offered a teaser service for this with enhanced or privileged search. Millions of people around the world would potentially go for this, raising hundreds of millions for its parent company, Alphabet. Watch this space as Google is thirsty for revenues and knows just how much we love, and need, its services.

Then there is my pet hate – Facebook. As you may remember, I cut ties with the social media platform over six months ago and I do not even give it a second thought. However, I do recognise that it is a fantastic piece of kit and that many people, not to mention businesses, rely on it. The coding behind this tech giant is first class and, now that it has had its knuckles rapped by the US Senate, it is cleaning up its act. Facebook provides hours of fun and frivolity for a huge global audience. From grans checking in on their children and grandchildren, to mates playing pranks on their chums, Facebook really does have it all. And no one is touching it just now in terms of performance.

So, how much would you pay to use it? After all, you pay for the wifi or 4G services to stream it to your devices. It follows, then, that you may need to pay for the social media that keeps you so entertained. Perhaps a subscription model would also be introduced here, where there are different tiers of users based on hours on the platform, content used or number of friends. Either way, a good starting position here feels like £20 a month, or a fiver a week. That would make Facebook tens of millions even if only a small percentage of their users opted for it.

We have to pay for Amazon Prime and we shell out for Netflix, so why not contribute to the social media or search platforms we use, which will soon be taxed in the UK. All the better for the Chancellor’s digital tax grab.

There can be little doubt that some form of payment system is around the corner for at least one of these tech giants. They’ve had it too good for too long. And so have we…

- Jim Duffy, MBE, Create Special