Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 19th Dec 2012 21:23 UTC
Talk, Rumors, X Versus Y Derek Powazek exposes the meaninglessness of the already overused tripe 'If you're not paying for the product, you are the product'. "But we should not assume that, just because we pay a company they'll treat us better, or that if we're not paying that the company is allowed to treat us like shit. Reality is just more complicated than that. What matters is how companies demonstrate their respect for their customers. We should hold their feet to the fire when they demonstrate a lack of respect. And we should all stop saying, 'if you're not paying for the product, you are the product', because it doesn't really mean anything, it excuses the behavior of bad companies, and it makes you sound kind of like a stoner looking at their hand for the first time." Nailed it.
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This manages to be both derogatory, and to show that the writer missed the whole point in the saying. As someone said regarding Orwell's 1984: "Its not supposed to be an instruction manual". Same here, its not an excuse, but a warning. It means that the price of using free services that are created by for-profit organisation is that the service giver now needs to generate revenue from other channels, mainly selling his data, that is his users data, that it yours and mine statuses, images, likes and shares, comments and posts, addresses and phone numbers to its real customers, the advertisers, making the users the product. It is full of meaning and very potent, see the recent Instagram fiasco.

The writer doesn't actually miss the point. His point is that this doesn't have one whit to do with whether a company charges for its services or provides them for free. The only thing that matters is whether the company in question has or doesn't have respect for its customers. Companies which don't will sell their customers' data, regardless of whether or not they charge.

Case in point: American Express. American Express, back in the 1980s, began creating lists of its cardholders' spending practices, matching them to shops, and *selling* the cardholders' details to shops on the basis of their shopping patterns. So if you used your card to buy big ticket jewellery items, they'd sell your details to luxury stores, who'd then bombard you with offers and spam. Note that this was done to paying customers and started in the days before the web. You'll find the details in Dwyer v. American Express 652 N.E.2d 1351 (1995).

On the other hand, you have a site like OSnews, which could easily build up fairly detailed profiles about us through sophisticated content analyses of our posts and clever tracking. It doesn't do that and it never will under current management, because the people who run it have respect for the website's users as individuals, not as random blobs of data to be harvested.

That's the essential point Powaz was making - this is a question of whether the service provider in question genuinely respects its customers, not of whether it charges them or how much it charges them.

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