If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.
There are more than a 100 Google products out there. Most of them are free or has a dumbed down free version of their commercial product. This is an exact opposite business model of how Microsoft (their biggest competition) works. As a matter of fact, you will have a hard time finding any other software at Google’s size that provides as many free services as Google does (maybe Yahoo, but they are not really Google scale).
There is, of course, a lot of benefit of free Google products for the consumers; both directly and indirectly. It has kept competition from charging exuberant amount for their product and service, especially when there is little or no competition out there. You can’t really compete with free without providing something superior, which in the process pushed commercial competition into improving their products (read Internet Explorer).
It’s convenient for Google to provide free services because that’s how they got started. You can’t really have a successful general search engine that charges money to search. This model worked for them and they used it in almost all of their products all across their products. Rinse and repeat.
TINSTAFL: There is no such thing as a free lunch.
Google is first and foremost an advertising company and they are very big and very good at what they do. The best advertising companies are the ones that find the most efficient way to show the right advertisement to the right people. If a 20-year-old guy gets ads displayed for a nursing home then it’s not a good investment for the advertiser. Unless that 20 year old was actively searching for nursing home in his favorite search engine (Google Search) and went to a website that review nursing home and that website has analytics (Google Analytics) that logs his behavior and then goes on to a social sharing website (Google+) to share and discuss his finding. He probably also uses free DNS service (Google Public DNS) that gives better response time than his ISP. He sends email (Gmail) about his online search to his sister, who also uses the same free email provider. He remembers to tag that place in his Smart phone’s (Android) map service (Google Maps) so that he gets a reminder (Google Now) to check it out next time he is close to that area.
Then he is the PERFECT person to display ads (Google Adsense/Adwords/admob/doubleclick) to for a nursing home.
What does all these scenario have in common?
All these web services are owned by the same company. Also, they are all Free. All these free services are working for one single goal, that is to display right ads to the right person. You, my friend, is the product and the advertisers are Google’s true paying customers. The whole Google jigsaw puzzle has one purpose to full-fill, that is to get as much information as they can get about you so that they can provide it to their real customer (advertisers) to show you the most relevant ads. Nothing more, nothing less.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to sensationalize anything. Google is not the only company doing it. But they are one of the biggest and they also have this reputation of being a “good guy” company. There is nothing wrong with making money. There is nothing wrong with selling your information to the advertisers. But there is something troubling (at least to me) in pretending and disguising yourself under the banner of “Do No Evil” bullshit. There is certainly a limit to how much information I am comfortable sharing with Google or any corporation for that matter.
Is it possible to completely unplug from the Google world?
In most cases yes. But in a lot of cases, Google is the dominant player. I am not advocating you to stop using Google altogether. There are worse corporations out there that you should be more concerned about. What I am asking is to not put all your eggs in one basket or give too much power to Google. The more you diversify your options the less power you give to Google (or any one company) and the less information they have about you. Only so-called “free” Google Services that are widely used has the potential to track your behavior and sell to advertisers.
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