But the point my friend is missing is that he’s not a Google customer. Nor are the hundreds of millions of people around the world that use Google to search the internet, carry out perfunctory translations, find directions or a myriad of other online tasks every day.
Twitter, another free service, is rumoured to be considering selling its back catalogue of tweets so that the relevant data can be extracted and used for profit by commercial entities. If Twitter does, such an act of treason will undoubtedly attract similar criticism. But having a Twitter (or Facebook) account doesn’t make you a customer. It makes you an asset to be optimised, monetised and sold to the highest bidder.
Whether Google’s new policy contravenes privacy laws as many have suggested will be assessed by others elsewhere. But have they got their communications wrong? They could of course have done more to engage with their users over the new policies but it would have been a losing battle.
We’re comfortable in the traditional role as customers where we feel we have a degree of control and resent being treated like assets. But the new business models ushered in by the Internet changed the rules and leaves us with a choice: put up with it and get on with paying indirectly for services we gain value from, or start paying directly.