So as the House Energy Subcommittee Hearing on Internet Privacy met yesterday and questioning came around to Congressman Steve Scalise (R-LA), he actually made my “You’re Not Google’s Customer, You’re the Product” article the centerpiece of his questions. You can see the exchange by clicking on the following video and starting at 01:53:44:
Here’s my rough transcript of his comments:
As we’re all struggling with the balance of between protecting privacy and making sure people are using the Internet. And one of the great things about the Internet is so many services are free. And one of the hooks that come in is that some of the things you are doing, there is tracking going on that is sold to advertisers and the advertising money that those companies make allows them to provide those services for free. So you have to weigh that balance in protecting privacy while allowing for the ability of those consumers who want to engage in that transaction to still have those services, if they so choose. Which is really where we get into the policy side in how best to make sure that framework gives those online consumer that choice.
I’d like to get your take on this article I read, “You’re Not Google’s Customer, You’re the Product.” It lays out an interesting scenario of who is the customer and who is the product. In many cases, you are the customer if you go into a store and pay money. In some of these cases, not just with Google but all these companies who have this kind of business model, are you really the customer if you aren’t paying for anything and your actions on their website is what is used to go sell advertising?
How does that relationship come down to how you as regulators treat those various entities? I’d like to get your take on that business model and how you view where you see the user of the service in that transaction.
[After witness said he was not familiar with the article, the Congressman said] Can I ask unanimous consent to enter the article into the record?
At least one of the witnesses admitted that there is a problem that consumer privacy is “becoming a commodity” and how to protect consumers is a key issue for regulators.