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You are not a customer of Google+, gmail, Facebook, or indeed any free service. The actual customers of those companies are advertisers, and we are the products being sold to them.

But this shouldn't be the problem, says Doc Searls, coauthor of this month's "The Intention Economy." We need to move beyond the preoccupation with protecting consumers, and instead create empowered customers.

Read the article and let us know what you think:
Saurabh Deoras's profile photoKevin Hanna's profile photo
+Harvard Business Review : Thanks for a nice thought provoking article as always.

Yes, I agree that consumer/customer separation is not really a problem. The currency of exchange between customer and platform providers is money, which is different from the currency of exchange between consumers and the platform providers. That currency is "social", which may be difficult to define, but leads to a net value return in terms of consumer satisfaction.

So just like we build laws to protect sanctity of monetary exchanges, there ought to be laws to protect this "social" exchange, which is why we need consumer protection laws. However, from the net value to the society point of view, giving focus to customer empowerment is not clear to me, whether in short term or long. Obviously my view is that of a consumer and it may be that the platform providers themselves are not benefiting from the social currency they helped create.
I've always struggled with the concept that I'm not a customer of Facebook, Google+.... This isn't any different from newspapers or television. If this were true, would it also be true that I'm not a customer of Samsung, I'm a customer of the Best Buy where I bough my Samsung phone?

I'm exposing myself to the ads, I'm even clicking on some of them. Without us users, there would be no money. I don't have the same value as an advertiser to any of these companies. But 1% of their users are just as valuable as 1% of their advertisers, there's just far more users than advertisers.

If these services were subscription based rather than ad driven. How would my experience and treatment differ? There would be some extra screen real estate not taken up by ads. I'd still be a small fragment of their customer base (assuming they had same number of users), thus my influence on their decisions would still be minimal, but existant.

What am I missing?
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