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If the product is free, you’re the product

January 7, 2014

If the product is free, then you are the product.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google and the free version of LinkedIn use your information to market to you. They don’t give away their product for free because they like you, or because they are philanthropic.

They use the data, all of it, to better deliver your information to marketers. Years ago, John Wanamaker famously said that half of his advertising dollars were wasted, he just didn’t know which half.

With the data we freely give these platforms, marketers no longer waste anything. We boost a message on Facebook to liberal arts graduates, who have a degree in economics and a 16-year old.

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This blog is called people like to share because well, in my experience, people like to share. With the advent of phones, tablets and watches connected to the internet, we continue to create data about our digital and real lives (FourSquare checkins).

That data is a goldmine for smart marketers. The good news for you and I is that it is smart marketers who are using it. Meaning you are more-likely to get messages that are actually relevant, instead of the suggested 3,000 ad messages we all see in a day.

I would take less, but better targeted ads as a by-product of my over-sharing.

I tell you all this because some people are suing Facebook over how they use data. According to the article:

“The plaintiffs allege Facebook systematically intercepts private messages to obtain data it shares with marketers, giving the company an advantage over other data aggregators.”

Intercepts? How can Facebook intercept a message that runs on their platform? Perhaps that’s semantics, but I have a question about the word “Private”. Facebook’s stated mission is:

“…to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”

That doesn’t sound like it is their mission to keep your stuff secret. Their business model, which I happen to like because I boost messages on Facebook, is to use information to allow smart marketing people to market their stuff to the right people.

Wanamaker would be proud – he wouldn’t sue.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 7, 2014 11:30 pm

    Nice post. Love the title: “If the product is free, you are the product.” People want free information and ad supported business models have kept it that way. From broadcast TV to radio, the internet and now social media. The difference is that now anyone with a credit card can set up ad campaigns to target buyers with laser precision in ways that Wanamaker could have never imagined. Attention is the fee for products offered for “free.”

    • January 10, 2014 9:07 pm

      Hi Rick, thanks for the comment. You’re right, we can target people so well, which is an advantage to everyone except traditional mass media outlets.

  2. July 24, 2014 1:38 am

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