A few years ago we discovered a  company that gathers information about wealthy people and sells it to product and service providers and also charities who target high net worth individuals. Our interest was to see if there was a beneficial application for luxury real estate marketing professionals.

The information they gathered about the wealthy is all public information. However, what is unique about their service is what they do with the information.  They correlate the data using proprietary algorithms and are able to develop profiles on high net worth individuals (approximate net worth, likelihood to invest, donate, buy a second home or refinance, etc.) that would not be obvious if you just looked at the information piece-meal.  It is this sophisticated level of correlation that offers vendors and service providers added value when they pay for the service. 

This value proposition disturbed us because we felt that it was an infringement of privacy, even though all of the information was public. So, we discontinued our investigation into the company.

Fast forward to Google’s announcement that they are about to  correlate the personal  information that they glean across the multiplicity of their platforms, i.e., Google +, You Tube, Gmail, its search engine, etc..  Given that the majority of Google’s revenue is derived from advertising, their intent is to deliver extraordinary value to advertisers, a value that is superior to that of their closest competitors. 

What they are saying to consumers is this correlation of personal information will provide a better user experience. After all, when you subscribe to Netflix, and rate movies in their system, they are able to make video recommendations based on your personal preferences. You may like the user experience on Amazon when they tell you people who purchased the same book you just bought “also liked” another book. This gives them a way to “up-sale” you (increase the amount of the current transaction). But, you may consider that there is value in getting suggestions.  This then, becomes  a value (theirs) for value (yours) exchange. There is no pretense of “free”.

But, is this the same type of correlation of information that Google is now about to do?  Google is not just correlating information based on products you have purchased or videos you either purchased or expressly told the system that you like. It is also factoring in many, many more layers and dimensions of your personal preferences and personal information.  On top of all that it is factoring in your age and your current geographic location (based on your mobile devices), for example,  so that it can send you ads that are relevant to local vendors and service providers.

Are you comfortable with this?  You are giving your permission to all of this correlation of your personal information because you have opted-in by default when you sign in to you your Google account.  You do have the option to opt-out, but the onus is on you to take the action to do so, every step of the way which may represent an inconvenience to you.  You are given access to some wonderful applications, media, and tools for free.  But is free really free? 

Apart from any direct benefit to you, your preferences, buying patterns, web-surfing sequences, etc. is valuable information to Google because it helps them understand and predict others who have similar consuming profiles that you have.  This is yet another layer of correlation that factors into the ads that are selected to be displayed to you, ads that Google is being paid for not you.

Before subscription TV, which is brought to you via cable or satellite, TV was free. But, was it really free.  You paid for this with your time and attention as you also watched advertisements.  But, the networks did not collect information about your TV watching habits.  Through market research performed by companies such as Nielson, the networks were able to determine how many viewers were watching which shows.  The more viewers the more money they could command for their ads.

Today, you pay for cable or satellite service and you pay for the advertising with your attention unless you mute the commercials or fast-forward through them if you have recorded the program.  You have a choice to pay attention to ads or not. But, your cable or satellite provider does not know what programs you watch or record. They have no idea who in your family is watching the programs that are viewed on your TV.  

The cable and satellite companies may be able profile your household based on correlating your geographic location, the number of TVs you have connected to their service, the type of bundled entertainment packages to which you subscribe.  But, this is minor league compared to the mega-media of Google and Facebook.

Facebook is another “free” media that derives the majority of its revenues from advertising based on the correlation of your personal information.  With an IPO about to be launched thousands of enthusiastic fans and would-be investors are going to sanction this type of media advertising. A tidal wave of agreement is going to validate this model.

Unlike the company that gathers and correlates public information about high net worth individuals, the information that Google and Facebook gather and correlate about you is your private information.  The specificity of information about you is unprecedented.

We are not trying to buck this current, just question it. Nor, are we here to pass judgment on Google or Facebook or their users. These are extremely valuable services. We are simply here to dispel the notion that you get Google and Facebook for free and also to propose an alternative idea.

What if you had the choice, like you do with your TV, to pay a subscription fee for the use of Facebook and/or Google services, even Google search, and not receive any ads whatsoever, with the understanding that they cannot use or correlate your personal information?  We would appreciate your opinion.  Would you pay (value for value) for such a subscription?  We would!


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