You are the product

“If you are not paying, you are the product.”

It’s one of the widely circulating truisms about services on the internet. To me, it is sloppy thinking just the right size to be an a soundbite.

For one, it seems to imply that a service provider can only have one particular kind of product. We all know that this is not true, on the Internet just as well as off. For another, it implies that money is the only way in which to pay for a product. And thirdly, the concept of a person being subject to a financial transaction has been outlawed for a good number of years — conventionally, we call that slavery.

It is true that many corporations – particularly the big players – make their income off selling ads for appropriately selected audiences. But that has also happened before the Internet happened; broadcast radio and TV operate by the same principle. Strangely enough, nobody says that for those service providers, their viewers and listeners are the product. But the belief is widespread that this is so for web properties.

What the actual service the internet companies provide is finding, growing and keeping audiences that give them enough attention. They do not sell anything off of you; they are middlemen for those who are willing to pay for somebodies attention and those giving their attention. And that is quite a different thing from the original statement.

It’s about time we retired it.

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