Paying for it doesn’t make it a market

Cory Doctorow, nailing it as usual.

If you care about how people are treated by platforms, you can’t just tell them to pay for services instead of using ad-supported media. The most important factor in getting decent treatment out of a tech company isn’t whether you pay with cash instead of attention – it’s whether you’re locked in, and thus a flight risk whom the platform must cater to.

↫ Cory Doctorow

I’m sick and tired of the phrase “if you’re not paying for the product, you’re the product”, because it implies that if just you pay for a product or service, you’re not going to be treated like ass. The problem is, as Doctorow points out, that this simply is not supported by the evidence, and that it isn’t whether or not you’re paying that makes you have a good or bad experience – it’s whether or not you’re locked in.

If you’ve got nowhere else to go, then corporations can treat you like ass.

There are so, so many free services and products I use where I’m anything but a “product”. My Linux distribution of choice, Fedora. My web browser, Firefox. The countless open source applications I use on my desktops, laptops, and smartphone. Those are all cases where even though I’m not paying, I know I’m being treated with respect, and I feel entirely comfortable with all of those. And no, you don’t get to exclude the open source world just because it’s inconvenient for the “you’re the product” argument.

There are also countless services and products where the opposite is true; I’m a paying customer, but I still feel like I’m the product. I pay for additional Google Drive storage. I pay for an Office 364 subscription because I needed it as a translator (I’m working on OSNews full-time now, and could use your help keeping the site going), but I can’t cancel it because my wife, my parents, and my parents-in-law use that same subscription. We pay for Netflix and one or two other video services. I don’t know if our ISP or wireless provider do anything malicious, but it wouldn’t surprise me. And so on.

Being a paying customer means nothing. It’s how easy it is for you to stop being a customer that matters.


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