Even if you’re paying for the product, you’re still the product
There’s something oddly comforting about the idea that “if you’re not paying for the product, you’re the product,” namely, the corollary: “If you can afford to pay for a product, you won’t be the product.” But it’s bullshit. Companies don’t make you the product because you don’t pay — they make you the product because you can’t stop them.
The theory behind “if you’re not paying for the product…” is that old economist’s saw: “incentives matter.” Companies that monetize attention are incentivized to manipulate and spy on you, while companies that you pay just want to make you happy.
This is a theory of corporate behavior grounded in economics, not power, a creature of theory and doctrine that never bothers to check in with the real world to see how that theory and doctrine map to actual events. Reality is a lot uglier.
Apple has blanketed the planet with billboards and print and online ads extolling its privacy-forward system design (e.g. “Privacy. That’s Iphone.”). There’s something to this: in 2020, the company made it very easy to opt out of third-party Ios surveillance, and 96% of its users opted out:
That decision cost Facebook $10 billion in a single year, and the losses keep coming. Facebook launched a campaign that accused Apple of privacywashing an anticompetitive maneuver, claiming that Apple didn’t care about its users’ privacy, they just wanted to eliminate competition for Apple’s own ad brokerage:
Facebook’s campaign poses itself as the true champion of its users, accusing Apple of shamming. It’s laughable. Facebook manifestly despises its users and proves that fact every day in a thousand ways, large and small. Facebook’s true objection to Apple’s privacy tools is that they reduced Facebook’s earnings by $10b. Obviously.
But that doesn’t mean that Facebook is wrong about Apple’s cynicism. Apple exercises enormous…