The Core Dump

A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures

[By Nic Lindh on Thursday, 09 December 2010]

You are the product

There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Enjoy a depressing explanation of why you are the thing being sold.

I love free stuff. Especially free Web services. Google, Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, all that stuff.

It’s pretty amazing what you can get for free these days.

Except of course there’s no free lunch. Never has been, never will be. You’re paying. Just not with money.

Any time you use a service at no cost to you, you are not the customer, you are the product being sold.

Just like the classic TV model, which is: Hey, here’s free entertainment for you. All you have to do is watch these ads.

In the TV model, the companies buying the ads are the customers—you, the viewer, are sold to them.

Same thing with the newspaper model—buy a paper, end up a product being sold to advertisers.

Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that. It’s up to you to decide whether the thing you’re getting at no charge is worth putting up with the ads or giving up your personal information. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But it’s a choice only you can make.

So the next time you’re thinking about signing up for some new, shiny free service, do take a moment to think about what you’re giving up.

As an addendum, if you want to get ludicrously rich, come up with an idea that will have users create the content themselves and then sell ads targeted at your users. This is how Web-based e-mail and Facebook make their money, and it’s a fantastic business model. Provide a playground, let people do their thing and then sell them to advertisers. If you get enough users, welcome to Cuban cigars and Ferraris.

So ask yourself: “How much am I worth?”

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