If You Can’t Tell What The Service Is Selling, It’s You

EdSurge nails the lede, but sort of misses the point. The overall tone of the piece is vague surprise that free services apparently can’t be trusted with user data.

Like the post title says, if the service is free, and you can’t tell what they’re selling to monetize it…the product is you. Your eyeballs. Your attention. Your data. This isn’t news, and it shouldn’t be surprising any more.

“We need to stop talking about services that are free and start talking about services that bury the cost in different ways.” – Bill Fitzgerald

EdModo’s protestations don’t cut much ice, either. I can’t help but be reminded of unroll.me CEO Jojo Hedaya’s response when the service was outed for selling user data to Uber: “It was heartbreaking to see that some of our users were upset to learn about how we monetize our free service”. Not “we’re sorry and shouldn’t have done that”, but “we’re sorry you didn’t read our TOS closely enough to know this was going on”.

Free services that require ongoing commitment of resources are not free, and the point that EdSurge sort of glosses over is that we should start from that assumption. It doesn’t matter if the back end is a black box, really. No service operates in a vacuum, and if a service can’t adequately explain how they’re funded, you should default to the conclusion that they’re relying on user data to fund themselves.

You have an extensive shadow identity online, and it is for sale.

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