In this post I explore the difference between being a customer and being the product, and how that relates to motorcycling.
This is part five of seven in a series of blog posts on motorcycles and technology. The first part can be found here.
Co-founder & CEO
We’ve gotten used to getting amazing products and services “for free”, or at least we think we do. But as the adage goes, if you’re not paying, you’re not the customer, and if you’re not the customer, you’re the product.
In the days of advertising-financed television, that was not too horrible. The TV channels didn’t have personal data, they based their sales on demographic statistics, and our individual habits were still not monetised. What has happened is that companies are no longer selling “females 35 – 44” to their advertisers. They’re selling you. And they are using your actions and habits to build their value.
Also, we’re constantly creating data points that tell tech companies something about ourselves. Most of this data is of a secondary nature, in that it is not strictly necessary to perform a transaction. For example, Amazon will be very interested in the products that we look at but do not buy, because they can predict our future preferences from this. In fact, these companies frequently know things about us that we do not know yet ourselves.
Some of the profiling is actually quite practical in a motorcycling context. Google Maps has enough data points to tell us if traffic on a particular road is moving slowly, and can guide us around it. Facebook can show us both ads for something we actually need, as well as use algorithms to connect us with content we don’t even realise we need. A lot of valuable human connections are made that way.
But the data we leave can also be used for nefarious purposes. If advertisers can target pregnant women before they know they are pregnant, authorities can use the same data to identify groups of would-be speed offenders. And even if we don’t plan to speed, we will be subject to more controls and more scrutiny.
Not being paying customers also means we have very few rights if the services stop working, or if they fundamentally change to the point where they are useless for us. I will talk more about this in the next section.
I’m not advocating that we should stop using free services at all. I use Google Maps all the time to find good roads, but I prefer to use Open Street Map and a proper motorcycling oriented app if I want to use my phone for navigation. Google tends to guide me around the best twisties…
But we should always consider if we mind being the product, and if we are comfortable sharing the data we produce with companies who want to make money from it. I think that if we keep this in mind, we will increasingly prefer to be the customer.