Are you really Facebook’s product? The history of a dangerous idea.

Will Oremus traces the history of the idea that "if you're not paying for it, you're the product." The basic idea originated as a critique of television, he writes. And in any case, he's not buying it.

It also seems to carry a strange implication that everything would be solved if only we had to pay for the privilege of social networking. The idea that paying for a product ensures better treatment holds some appeal at a time when the likes of Apple and Netflix are enjoying success without resorting to intrusive ads. Of course, not everyone can afford Apple products, or Netflix for that matter. And there are plenty of companies making paid products that don’t have their customers’ best interests in mind, either. Think of cigarette companies intentionally making their products more addictive, or Volkswagen cheating on emissions tests. In an early rebuttal to the “you’re the product” meme that’s still well worth reading, Derek Powazek favorably contrasted Tumblr’s customer service to that of Comcast, which charges people plenty of money while still treating them like dirt.


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