I used to know this guy. I’ll call him B. We met at a local social media club event a few years ago, which is kinda fitting. I’ll explain in a moment. B seemed like a cool guy. He was about my age, seemed interested in the same things I was, and he seemed driven to succeed on his own—something I admired.
So we started meeting up for lunch every couple of weeks. And like clockwork, about 30 minutes into the meal, he would reach into his bag and pull out a catalog of stuff he was selling to support some of his entrepreneurial endeavors. I mean, every single time we met he would try to sell me stuff. Aggressively.
After a few months, I got tired of it. Outwardly, he was friendly and open, but it became clear that his agenda was not friendship or lunch. It was to sell me household cleaners, vitamins, and other crap I could buy at Target for the same price.
I stopped hanging out with B.
I’m beginning to feel the same way about Google, Facebook, and any other service that approaches me under the guise of a non-business relationship only to collect.
It’s becoming the great 21st century con: They make friends with you, then take as much as they can—only they’re not getting your money; they’re taking your privacy for their own gain.
At the same time, I’ve started appreciating traditional business-customer relationships more than ever. I enjoy paying for things because it’s an explicit business transaction. There’s nothing phony about it.
Apple doesn’t give me an iPad because they want to be friends with me. They give me an iPad because I pay them for an iPad. My accountant doesn’t do my taxes because he’s a philanthropist. I pay him to do my taxes.
With money, comes accountability to the customer. If my iPad stops working, Apple has to answer to me. If my tax return has errors, my accountant will be answering questions.
No one is answering my questions at Google, Facebook, et al. Why would they? They have customers to attend to, and I’m not one of them.
Privacy is fast becoming the de facto currency with which we transact online. And so few people understand how much they’re spending or who it’s going to. Most people don’t even know if they’re the customer or the product.
I still use several Google services, and I still have a Facebook account. But my usage has been trending down for a while now. I understand that there is an incremental cost to using those services.
I also understand that the value of privacy is changing this century, and I haven’t changed my views on the irreversibility of where we’re headed. I think the collection of personal data via mobile devices has a lot of benefits. For example, I’m fine paying a location “privacy tax” to Google for the benefit of using Google traffic data. At least there’s a direct return to the privacy tax payer in that case.
It’s when I get cut out of the deal that I take issue.
If you do nothing else before signing up for a new web service, stop for a moment and ask, “what’s in it for them?” It’s fine to use services that don’t require monetary payment. Just understand that these things are not free, and make sure you’re comfortable with what you’re getting in return.
These are not friendships. These companies are not giving you things because they’re your buddy.