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Originally published October 25 2012.

We’re not the customer

Note: It seemed relevant to post this again today.

It knows what you’re looking for. It can ‘read’ your emails. It follows you as you wend your way around the web, taking note of the web sites you visit, the products you show interest in. It stores your work documents. It knows what you like – and don’t like. Holds your calendar. Shows you how to travel to a new location. Provides you with video entertainment and news.

Big Brother exists. It’s called Google.

Whilst the company may have the publicly stated aim of storing and linking every piece of information ever recorded at any time throughout recorded history; it doesn’t hurt to occasionally remember that it makes the vast majority of its money through advertising. And the more it knows about “us”, the more information it has to target us with adverts.

Now, I’m not for one second saying we should all boycott Google’s many services (says he writing this blog post through Google Chrome on a blog which uses Google Analytics and receives email via GMail), I just think that sometimes it doesn’t hurt to remember that all these services we use on a daily basis are free for a simple, single reason.

We’re not the customer. We’re the product. The value of our personal information far outweighs the cost of providing us with services such as GMail and Google Docs.

And the same is true for Facebook: tell us about yourself, tell us everything, and we’ll show you highly-targeted adverts based on this information.

This is the new economy we live in. And it allows companies to ensure – as far as possible – that their advertising dollars are spent punting products at people with more than a good chance of being interested in them.

The famous John Wanamaker quote (“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted — I just don’t know which half.”) is becoming increasingly-inaccurate.

So we have a choice; we can continue to receive these bountiful goods from the Internet Gods for free, and in return accept that much of our ‘private’ information is being collected, consolidated and used to create a new niche demographic – or we can start paying for the services direct.

I say direct because we’re paying for them anyway, through the cost of the goods we buy; where else would the marketing budgets come from?

As someone who works in digital marketing, the ability to target very, very, very specific groups of people is something that simply wasn’t possible when our adverts appeared printed on dead trees. And that makes for a more efficient marketing spend.

But, as I said, I don’t think it hurts – as a punter – to recognise your position in this equation. A thought that regularly comes to mind when I see another Facebook scare scam about the company charging for its service or complaints about the appearance of adverts in a Twitter stream. We’ve accepted the trade-off, “something for nothing” in effect. If “we” don’t like it. There are alternatives…

The image at the top of this page is taken from here. All rights recognised and respected. Image may have been cropped to fit the available space.

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