If you’re not paying for it, you are the product

We’ve all heard that saying now – or something similar to it – by using those supposedly “free” services from companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and the like, you aren’t, despite what you may think, their customer. 

The customer is the advertiser paying to get their adverts in front of you, and the information you post on those services is how those companies provide value to their customers by being able to target the adverts more effectively.

How often have you searched for a product online, only to suddenly start seeing adverts on other sites offering the product (or competing products) that you searched for. Well, that’s no coincidence.

Most people think of Google as a search engine, or an email provider, or a cloud storage service, or the maker of Android, or Chrome.  In fact, it’s primary business (i.e. the one that makes the money that it costs to provide those services, run huge datacentres and develop the software to run those services at no cost to the user) is selling advertising.  The tools it uses to make those sales are your emails, your searches, your posts on Google+, your calendar entries and other data they can glean about you from how you use their services and products.

Well, I’ve decided to make an effort to put a stop to this.  By simply paying companies for services where their primary business isn’t selling advertising. 

Rather than selling you to advertisers, they make money directly – by providing the services to the end user in exchange for cash.  In some cases, I’m even hosting myself on my own hardware – my own “personal cloud” if you like.

Yes, I still have an active email address on gmail – but the emails that are still going through there are now automatically forwarded to my real email service – hosted with a company called Fastmail – and they do not data mine my messages to profile me (trying getting Google to say that!) – and slowly but surely, I’m updating my contacts and accounts on other websites to reduce the volume of mail being routed through Google.

My RSS Aggregation moved to some time ago (when Google pulled their “Reader” product) – again a paid service and one I’ve been very happy with.

Now the important thing about these two services, and one that differentiates them from the likes of Google, is simple – I pay for the service with cold hard cash – and it’s not expensive – $40 (us) per year for my Fastmail account, and $24 (us) per year for Newsblur.

This is not a story of a single moment in time where I broke free of profiled advertising driven sites – it’s a journey and a process, and one where I’m dealing with the worst offenders first – those which have the access to more of my personal data than the others – and stopping actively sharing information with Google is a start.

Useful Links: – privacy search portal – my current paid email and calendar host – my current paid RSS aggregator service.