You Are Still the Product


If you’re not paying, you are the product.

People often read this quote and assume the negation; that if you are paying you aren’t the product. Unfortunately for any public company that simply isn’t true. The true “customers” of a public company are the shareholders, and they demand maximum profit. The people paying (or not) are just a resource to be mined as effectively as possible.

If a company is selling a TV, and they will make more money by selling ads, then they will sell ads on that device. It has nothing to do with lowering the price of the device, price isn’t directly linked to cost. The math is simply that they will make pricemanufacturing cost\v{price} - \v{manufacturing cost} in one situation, and pricemanufacturing cost+ad revenuedevelopment cost\v{price} - \v{manufacturing cost} + \v{ad revenue} - \v{development cost} in the second. As long as the revenue from ads is expected to be greater than the cost of updating the software they will do it.

The exception of course is if it cuts into purchases. If ads are projected to bring in $10M, but cost $15M in sales then ads don’t get shipped. (Long term effects such as brand perception may also be considered.) In practice few consumers let presence of ads influence their purchase decision. Often times they aren’t even aware of the ads until after they have set up the product, and can’t be bothered to pack it back up and return it. (Funny enough “Contains Ads” is never in big letters on the packaging.)

So if you are paying you are still the product, but you have more value to the company, so the abuse will be limited by the threat of you shutting your wallet.