Ms ZiYou Panorama
Money

Are you comfortable being the product?

As you may have seen over on my twitter feed, I’ve been adding all my photos to Google photos. I have a reasonable number of photos scattered around the place. I was getting tired of not being able to find them, so I decided to centralise them and keep them all in one place. Enter Google photos, which will store my photos for free and makes them searchable. Similar to their other service offerings such as Gmail and Google Search – I am the product. They want my data and will provide a free service to me in exchange for it.

And this got me thinking – am I comfortable being the product and giving them my data for free? Moreover, I need to come up with a blog post to share all these pictures.

Main Photo: Path to Ben Nevis, Scotland.

The background

M ZiYou Gherkin

I tend towards clumsy. I break my phones and laptops on a fairly regular basis. Hence I try to ensure that everything is backed up on the cloud.

But I also tend towards frugal hence I appreciate free services. Therefore I had used a fair few free cloud services over the years. With the end result that my photos, especially those taken on my phone camera were spread all over the cloud.

Aside: a London picture to the right – can you guess where this picture was taken?

So as I researched getting all my photos together, Google photos rose to the top of the offerings – as it was free. Initially, I thought “Thank you Google”. But then I started to think – is Google doing this for altruistic purposes?

What is the business model for this free?

I am grateful for this free service. Nonetheless being cynical and curious, I want to know why this is free. I expect there to be a catch. There is always a catch. Or a footnote. A free lunch usually requires your attendance and email address. Free samples are trying to get you addicted.

And for Google, I am the product. They want my data and are happy to provide these services to me for free. So Google is making me the product and using all my free products to learn about me. Then they can use that data and insight to generate income.

Ms ZiYou Callendish

The old way of business – Selling Products

Photo: Callendish Standing Stones, Outer Hebrides

In the olden days, the way to make money was to make products and trade these products with others. It’s a simple business model that we all can understand. Old school manufacturing businesses where someone makes a good and sells the product were the backbone of traditional economies.

These products can be consumer goods that are sold to the end user, or intermediary goods used to make other goods. For most people, this business model makes sense and is easily understandable. A physical product is produced which is easy to see and categorise. We instinctively understand these goods are items we must trade money for. The amount of items that fit this business model is vast. From necessities such as food and shelter to luxury goods such as iPhone and yachts – these are all consumer goods based businesses.

Moreover, it’s not too hard to understand that it’s not that easy to make a cake or a yacht with your bare hands. You need the right machinery. And that machinery itself is produced from metal. Hence we understand the concept of intermediary goods that are sold business to business to make an end consumer product. And it follows on that these supply chains can become complex with many parts needed to assemble together for that yacht.

In summary – the old business model of selling goods  – where the product is traded for money – still thrives globally. These manufacturing businesses still employ many and generate profit for the economy albeit they have shifted from developed countries to developing over the last century.

The newer way of business – Selling Services

Photo: Dartmouth, Devon

Moving on from the old school goods based economy is the idea of a service economy. If you define goods as physical things people need and want, services are then the experiences people need and want. These are items that are not physical, but again essential or luxury services that we trade money for. We instinctively understand that we need to pay in money for services such as a plumber or a holiday.

This is more modern than a goods based system and involves skills and expertise being traded. We can understand that we occasionally need the services of a plumber or accountant, and we are happy to trade money for their skills.

In summary – the newer business model of selling services  – where the service is traded for money – is a thriving sector in both developed and developing countries.

Ms ZiYou Beach

The new way of business – Selling Data

Photo: Coastal Path, Pembrokeshire

And finally we have a new era – where services are provided for free, and the customer becomes the product.

This is a developing sector in the economy, and lots of companies are providing products for free as they work out how to monetise them. Many run on seed money and venture capital funding and make losses for years, before hitting on an idea that works. As an aside, I have to admit to being one of the sceptics of new businesses that are not profitable. My logical brain struggles to accept that people are taking a risk and trying to find a way to make the businesses profitable.

However, many businesses have now made this business model work – the big ones being Facebook and Google. They provide services to end consumers for free and make their not unsubstantial profits by being able to provide very targeted advertising, as they have your data. They know so much about their users that they can target expertly, allowing business to get the maximum bang for their bucks when advertising.

In summary – the newer business model of selling data  – where the user is the product – is a growing sector with increasing employment and companies developing more and more paths to monetisation.

Am I comfortable being the product?

Yes. I am happy being the product. For the price of free, I am happy with this decision.

Moreover, taking this from an exploitation point of view – I am the only person potentially being exploited. I am not comfortable with free when others are treated badly and underpaid, but I am happy to assume the risk personally.

I have made a deliberate decision to provide my data to them for access to these free services. This is a win-win proposition in my eyes and I understand that these companies will then use my data. My life isn’t that scandalous – and I am happy for people to know I take lots of cat pictures and partake in many feminist rants.

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Over to you

  • What are your thoughts?
  • Are you comfortable being the product?

Thank you for reading – please leave a comment below and join in the conversation. You can also connect on Twitter or contact me privately.

14 comments on “Are you comfortable being the product?

  1. I like being the product too because I think it makes consumers more conscious. Companies are tailoring themselves to consumers wants. If we want more environmentaly friendly products and the data shows that, it will influence supply. I like the consumer responsibility that comes with that.
    I want to be sold more products and services I want 🙂

  2. > can you guess where this picture was taken?

    The top of the Gherkin, possibly in Searcys.

    As to being the product, short of dropping off the grid and becoming a hermit, we already are. Nearly all our spending is electronic these days, which is analysed and sold into. Loyalty programmes, “people who looked at this, also bought that”, etc.

    May as well benefit from the useful services available in return.

    1. Yes, pic is from the bar at the top of the gherkin.

      And yes – we’ve been slowly and gradually becoming the product for years – and I know I for one didn’t realise it initially.

  3. I’m pleased to see I have been to 4 of the picture locations in this post! Makes up for not having been to many non-Europe exotic locations. Getting things for free is all about the trade off. Is it worth handing over your data to receive a product? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Free Google photos – definitely yes!

    1. Hi Tuppeny – that’s cool you’ve been to these place too – I think we are so lucky to live in such a pretty country.

      And yes, I also think google photos is easily worth handing over your photos / data.

  4. Nope not happy about being the product.

    It’s not at all clear what ‘they’ are collecting, what the value is, who it is buying and what purpose it is used.
    It’s also not clear what the privacy boundaries are and why they are being constantly pushed and how they can be repurposed.
    The free stuff will just disappear any time it’s not profitable.

    Under those circumstances how can I possibly give informed consent ?

    On the flip side.

    My backup NAS drive was slow, insecure and finally not supported.
    My paid for email was limited, insecure, spam infested and finally hacked.

    Difficult choices.

    I’m personally in an halfway house, no social media, limited google (photo backups), limited MS , VPN so my ISP can do one… But I’m not completely convinced it’s worth the hassle 🙂

    1. Thanks Nathan – I wanted to hear from someone that dislikes being the product. And yes, when you put it like that it is scary. I think they are keeping all the data until they can work out what is profitable to sell…

      And you are right I’m noting this method is becoming the norm.

  5. Exactly, if you’re not paying for something, you’re the product. It took consumers a while to realize this, but I think we all know it now. I don’t mind being the product as long as the service is useful. Companies are collecting a ton of data, though. They might find other insidious ways to use that data someday. It’s scary.
    On the other hand, I also benefit from this new economy from blogging…

    Is the photo from the Gherkin building?

  6. I sometimes think about this but I haven’t made my mind yet. The only company that would worry me is Google because I use many of their services on a daily basis. For now I’m ok being the product but as Joe said it is scary to think what they can do with it in the future.

What do you think?