MetaFilter user Andrew Lewis coined a phrase that has become the rallying cry for internet privacy watchdogs over the past 3 years, “If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.” He was speaking of Digg’s redesign in 2010 in which the emphasis of the site shifted away from user-centric content curation and towards a model that was clearly intended to monetize Digg’s large userbase. Since then, the phrase has been applied to many services, including the 800-lb gorilla of free internet services, Facebook, and dozens of other social media sites that use advertising money to fund their “free” services. Savvy users will note that Google has been leveraging this model on a less obvious (but no less profitable) basis ever since Google search arrived and Gmail extended its tendrils into millions of users’ daily online existence.
What this means for you:
If you have a Google account, then you are automatically opted in to this advertising model. To opt out, you must go to your Account settings under the Google+ section, and look for the “Shared Endorsements” link to disable your participation in the program. If you actually go do this, you’ll note that Google has written quite the argument as to why you might want to stay opted-in: “Your friends might not be able to benefit from your wisdom.” Depending on your level of participation in online reviewing/commenting/rating, participating in this program may be no big deal, or a very big deal. Either way, you should consider the implications for your online brand, whether current or planned, and the impact on your privacy, especially if your face and words could start appearing on thousands of monitors around the world.