You, Yes You, Are The Product

Every few weeks we are reminded that the free services we use online come at a cost. Last week, Microsoft admitted to reading a Hotmail user’s email in order to find the source of a leak.

Yesterday Google denied that it had ever done so though they did mention that “While our terms of service might legally permit such access, we have never done this and it’s hard for me to imagine circumstances where we would investigate a leak in that way.” I have included the entire quote here for fairness but the important part is noting that the terms of use “might legally permit” reading any user’s email as noted by Nitasha Tiku over at Valleywag. Ms. Tiku aptly summed up Google’s denial with the words:

“This concludes your daily reminder that if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. Thanks for playing.”

Money. Still making the world go 'round.

Money. Still making the world go ’round.

It really doesn’t matter  if Google changes their policy as Liz Gannes said she has asked them, except perhaps to the press and their perception of Google. Gmail and other web emails still offer a service that us users are more than willing to use for free.

 This perception that everything online needs to be free started back in the days of the heady first bubble, when web site were going all out to get “eyeballs.” Ignoring the few subscription services out there, this is still true today. Users expect to get great content and services online and not pay a cent.

Well, the big difference between the end of the last century and today is that companies have figured out how to monetize free services and that is called “advertising.” Collecting and selling your personal information to advertisers so that advertisers can use that information to market to you and increase the chances of you spending money on their products by hyper-targeting their ads is how free services stay free to the user. They are being paid for by someone else. This is the real cost of using the service.

It’s also not such a bad thing. Advertising dollars have allowed Google to put the user first in so many new and wonderful online and mobile products. Thousands of engineers are working around the globe are working hard to ensure that you, yes you, have a great product and that you get it for free. The disconnect between using the product and paying for are pretty beneficial to users.

It comes down to a choice: if you don’t like the terms of use, then don’t use the service.

You can always choose the Jimmy Carter Method: snail-mail.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s