I’m the product, not the customer

This has been buzzing around in my head for a few days now, since I read something about it… somewhere. Knowing what my daily reading is like, thanks to Google Reader, it was most likely Wired News. But there it is.

For some companies I, like most people I suppose, considered myself a customer even if the transaction was of zero value. Let’s pick out free newspapers and commercial radio stations here. I don’t pay for them, but I considered myself a customer and they subsidise the free distribution to me, the customer, by regretably taking in advertising. But that’s not the way it works at all. I am demographically analysed within an inch of my life, together with cross-sections of polls, letters-to-the-editor, call-ins etc etc. And all this information is packaged up and sold to the advertising companies. ‘You want access to these juicy morsels? To these eyes, ears and, sometimes, brains? That’ll cost you.’ And the wider the distribution, the greater the number of eyes and ears, the greater value the product has.

This became an issue some time ago when the console game Kane & Lynch was being promoted. Gamespot, a game review website had accepted a huge wad of cash and effectively revamped their site, splashing Kane & Lynch logos, sounds, images and labels everywhere. And then the reviewer assigned to the game completely annihilated it. And then got fired two days afterwards for a completely unrelated, yet undisclosed, reason. The outcry was huge. After all, surely the site owed it’s integrity to it’s customers? Yes. Yes, it did indeed. It’s just that we ain’t them.