How big was your Google bill this month? Have you paid Facebook yet? Cutting down on your Youtube usage to save money?
Ok, I apologise for my customary facetiousness but, unless you’ve paid for advertising or, like me, signed up for extra space on the gmail server to store gazillions of old emails (because I’m crap at throwing stuff away), I’m pretty sure that you’ve never actually given any of these services any cash. On the other hand, like almost everybody else, you’ve almost certainly taken ample advantage of what they have to offer. And quite possibly not paused to ponder where the money comes from to allow us to upload our holiday videos on Youtube.
Now for anyone who no longer believes in Father Christmas, the tooth fairy and a free lunch service, it oughtn’t to be too surprising that the companies behind these services are exploring every possible way to make them profitable. And not very surprising either, given the way that we use the services, that these profitable solutions include exploiting the information we consciously or unconsciously give them.
There’s little question that both Facebook and Google have been less than forthright in the way they’ve changed their rules, and Google may end up paying a hefty European fine for the way in which it has behaved. But the fact remains, these companies are offering us free stuff; somewhere there has to be a pay-off. It’s up to us to decide whether the two sides of the equation balance up.
The complaints I’m hearing about Google and Facebook remind me, incidentally, of the whinges I often encounter from readers of glossy magazines about the number of advertisements they have to wade through. Do these readers really imagine that the few pounds or dollars they hand over for a copy really pays for all the journalism, photography, editing and printing? If so, maybe the steady growth in free publishing and the high cost of advertising-lite eforts like World of Fine Wine should set them straight.
Google and Facebook may now be worth more than many a small nation and they may have become as big a part of many of our lives as our morning cup of coffee, but we are not their subjects; none of us carries a Google passport. Yet. Stated simply, if you don’t like the way your free lunch is served, take your custom to another soup kitchen.