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Poll: Are Google users the customer or the commodity being sold?

TechRepublic member Neon Samurai believes Google users are no more than a commodity to be sold to advertisers. Do you agree?
In a recent article by Kevin Purdy published in the Google in the Enterprise Blog, A practical argument for a Google Drive product, TechRepublic member Neon Samurai was concerned about the viability of Google-provided personal cloud storage. This part of his comment is what caught my attention:

"Google's core business is advertising. We are not the customer; we are the commodity being sold. If google provides hosted storage, they will do so in the same way they provide other services; with full transparency into the user's data."

That got me thinking. I know Google uses data gleaned from users to help direct their advertising assets and I accept that as the cost of using Google Apps, but even with that reality, I always considered myself a Google customer. Perhaps I should not make that assumption.

If I really am a mere commodity in Google's eyes, that would help explain the lack of "customer service" I have experienced from the company recently. Can Google really afford service to one kernel of corn inside a silo full of kernels? What do you think? Do you consider yourself a Google customer and more importantly, do you think Google treats you as a customer?

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About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

16 comments
Heidi Crawford
Heidi Crawford

We know that Google looks to us for eyeballs, yet cataloging topics in Gmail seems to be another thing entirely, and casting such a large net, their customer service can be problematic. It seems like lots of us have felt the same way all along, and judging by the points in Tony Tai's post, http://bit.ly/jZi1MT, it looks like there is an ongoing conversation about how Google regards its business customers, and consumers, for that matter.

B.Kaatz
B.Kaatz

Expanding on what l_e_cox said above, by a strict economic framework, we are the contractors, our data is the commodity *and* we are the customers. 1.) You clicked "I Agree" to the license agreement when you signed up for Google's free service(s): You are a contractor to Google. You will provide Google with: Query data (for/from the search engine), a known-good email address (for/from GMail) and usage statistics (From other Google services). The fact that you gain benefit from this is the reason you want to continue to do it, which makes Google want to continue this relationship. 2.) The data that is generated is the commodity being sold to the advertisers. And, it's not just *your* data, but an aggregate of *ALL* the data that they get and have to sift and sort and group and classify until it is palatable to *their* customers; the Advertisers. 3.) Now, why do the Advertisers buy this commodity? Because they want *you* to be *their* customers! They know that you are looking, you are using Google's service. They *hope* that the information they paid for is targeted well enough to get you to stop and look further instead of click past their ads. Can the Advertisers tell *exactly* what you were looking for that made your email and/or account a part of their purchased advertising package? I highly doubt it. I doubt that the data/lists that Google sells has that level of granularity to it because in that format, it wouldn't really be palatable to the Advertisers. They don't need extra work. They just need another method of advertising their products/services. They've already come up with what they think is a winner as far as their ads, they just need to get it to the right people. (They hope.) Say you are an advertiser for a company that sells shoes. You go to Google and want to buy some data on potential customers. They provide you with 20,000 accounts that have, in one fashion or another, been interested in shoes. Now, as many in Sales have told me, if you get 10% to actually click through the link and look at your site, that's successful advertising. So, now you have 2,000 potential customers on your site. Now its up to your site's layout, features and design to be able to close the sale. And, how many actually make a purchase? If you got 200 sales from this, many would call that a success. And, if you *don't* buy anything? If nobody buys anything? Well, if a particular method of advertising yields no sales, that method is abandoned. So, you are the contractor to Google for the commodity you and your fellow users generate *and* you are a potential customer to the Advertiser's company. You are the consumer. You are the one that the companies doing the advertising are fighting each other to get to first. If you actually make a purchase from one of the Advertiser's companies, then they are happy, and they tell their advertisers to go back to Google and buy more data... And, so the great Circle of Business continues...

l_e_cox
l_e_cox

...your customers are the ones who pay you for your products and services. Interesting: That by providing us a "service" they don't have to pay us to provide them with data that is valuable enough to them that they can get their customers to pay them for it. Of course, if their service to us becomes too terrible, we will drop them and thus hurt their business. Unless...we depend too much on the "service" they are providing. It's a curious state of affairs.

AlaskaHome1959.mailinglists
AlaskaHome1959.mailinglists

"We are not the customer; we are the commodity being sold." Well, duh.... Why does the author even feel the need to question this? The customer for any business is that entity which directly provides it's principle income. And with Google, their customer is the advertiser. The same with Yahoo! and Bing, for that matter. What about online services such as AOL, Live, et cetera? Yep, the 'subscribers' are not the customer because their contribution to the profitability of the company is nil in comparison to the real customer: The advertiser. This misdirection by the major on-line services (free or otherwise) has been an issue for many of us for a long time. The author of this article is not only late coming to this realization, he doesn't even seem to be fully accepting of that realization. Why is it those who are the most deeply imbedded in the industry can't see the obvious? Oh, that's right. Because they work for companies (like Tech Republic) who are guilty of the same deception: We are no more their customer than we are Google's, just another commodity to be parlayed into advertising sales and income.

Carl.Lee4
Carl.Lee4

I was once one of Google's biggest fan's. I was an early user of the IGoogle customized page. it was my home page for quite a while, and it WAS great. Then they, without consideration of their cattle, slapped a inch wide strip of dead space along the left hand side. Gave users no option for moving, removing, hiding, or reclaiming the space in anyway. This attitude is pervasive through out Google's interaction, with the user world. They are right, you are nothing. They seem to forget, that Yahoo still exists and I can find everything I need there. If we consumers want to be heard we have to voice our disapproval by abandoning companies that treat us as if they don't matter. Even Wal Mart would fail if people were truly as outraged as the blogs and news would have us believe.

brianalls
brianalls

If you use Google's services and you don't pay for them, you're the commodity. Not that there is anything wrong with that! Just know that someone somewhere is paying for you to use Gmail or the search engine. It's that simple.

bboyd
bboyd

Ask your credit card company how they monetize you privacy. If you always pay off your purchases and pay no interest they still make money charging the business and selling your information to their "Partners". Read the nice little agreements next time. You signed away your soul, bit by bit. Google may be the lesser evil. Still evil.

jkameleon
jkameleon

... that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Everything is paid for one way or another, not necessarily by money. Google's services, for example, are paid by a little part of the user's soul. Not the part the devil might be interested in, but advertizers, employers and government(s).

dogknees
dogknees

We have been the "product" for years. Free to air TV's reason for existence is to sell our attention to the advertiser. It's not a problem as long as you keep it in mind at all times and don't for a second think you are the customer.

adornoe
adornoe

that can be marketed or sold, like a soft drink, to enrich the entity which would use me as such. That's why I don't subscribe to any services from Google, and I don't subscribe to Facebook, because, they too, treat the "users" as the product to be marketed. I even try to avoid using Google's search engine, and if I do use it, it might be very infrequently and only when necessary.

Lazarus439
Lazarus439

Admitedly, I know very little about Google Apps, but to the extend one uses the paid services Google offers, is he/she not a customer and treated as such?

rpollard
rpollard

That's exactly how Google sees their users. Their support has got to be the worst in the industry. I've read many posts that complained about Google's support being non-existent to paying customers.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Do you consider yourself a Google customer and more importantly, do you think Google treats you as a customer?

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

My thoughts on this subject take a back seat to what TechRepublic members have to say about it. I have purposely played the role of outsider looking in because it is the best way to get the IT Professionals on this site to express their opinions about a subject. Unlike other sites, I know my opinions are not the important opinions. But interpreting that tactic as being unaware of every angle is just plain wrong.

mdeans
mdeans

That difference resides in how your information is used. Google creates statistics and then sell advertising on the groups that are found in the numbers. Your data and the fact that it is your data is not sold. The same cannot be said of Facebook.