You Are The Product
The constant and rapid pace of technological innovations creates easy opportunities for advancement. In this era of fast adoption and, occasionally, fast expiration, it’s not easy to slow down and examine how the changes have affected our lives. While I love the utility available to me in this inter-connected world, I am not a fan of the dichotomy of providing free service and requiring business profitability that has emerged as the default playbook for achieving and measure success as a company. Consumers have become increasingly naïve in their willingness to give up the power of purchase, and in turn, companies see the individual not as a customer, but simply another addition to the user base collection. When there is no price to pay, you are not a customer; you are just a product being sold.
Services are not free. Features are not give-aways. Even without explosive growth, companies have to maintain break even to sustain operability. And when the revenue does not come from the users themselves, then the practice of selling the data based on collected behavior must continue. That information is valuable and the cost of gathering that information pales in comparison. Billions in revenue. Millions in cost. So companies will create addictive and compulsive products only to give them away. The culling and cultivation of the masses will continue — without awareness and without knowledge, the masses will continue to expect free offerings in exchange for intimate details of their habits, preferences and lives. Worst yet, the success of companies like Facebook, Twitter and Zynga inspire new generations of businesses with this exploitative concept as the driving force, especially when the leadership themselves espouse this ideal — “just to get revenue.” I don’t mind the business model, except now that has become the only game in town. People are no longer seen as customers, but simply remote sensors to provide endless data stream to feed into the machine.
Some may disagree, believing that the free services are worth the trade-off in privacy. Arguably, the original dotcom rush of mass adoption may not have occurred as readily, without companies like Juno or Rocketmail along the way. Except, then, there was the option to pay. We do not have that now. It’s become impractical to compete with the 800lb gorillas of social platforms with a pay-to-play offering. Imagine the viability of a service without the momentum of people, and a pay wall before entry. So not-paying is the only choice, and the vicious cycle continue, and empires continue to lock in the masses. Users will continue to be trampled, their information traded, and their concerns largely ignored. You have become the commodity. You, are what’s selling off the shelves.