If They Sell Advertising We Aren’t Their Customers

I found much of what Doc Searls wrote about Mozilla to be true of just about all of the services we use online these days.

By becoming an advertising company (in addition to everything else it is), Mozilla now experiences a problem that has plagued ad-supported media for the duration: its customers and consumers are different populations. I saw it in when I worked in commercial broadcasting, and I see it today in the online world with Google, Facebook, Twitter… and Mozilla. The customers (or at least the main ones) are either advertisers or proxies for them (Google in Mozilla’s case). The consumers are you and me.

This is what we’ve been seeing with Google’s pushing their users toward their social network, Facebook pushing business pages towards becoming customers and buying advertising, and we will continue to see it more and more. These companies, much like broadcast radio and the old days of broadcast television, only create products that will assist in selling advertising.

So, yes, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Mozilla, etc. have an interest in creating popular products that people like to use. After all, without the users, there’s no advertising market. But it’s not quite that straightforward. Because there’s always that third party involvement, the relationship between the user and the company is never a direct relationship. The company has another master to satisfy and sometimes, that master’s interests will be in direct contrast to the user’s interest. When two master’s interests are in competition, it’s usually going to be the one who signs the checks who wins.

You might not think that’s fair, and maybe it isn’t. There’s definitely a line that companies probably can’t cross with their users before they lose them and thus lose the advertisers as well, but we’ve gotten pretty entrenched with these products. It will hurt to walk away from using Facebook, probably more than it costs to continue using it, but there’s always a line in the sand, or at least a point where the law of the land and government agencies would step in and protect consumers.

Then again, with Google taking up lobbying the government as an arm of their business, I wouldn’t count on that.

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