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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