back to article Google gets my data, I get search and email and that. Help help, I'm being REPRESSED!

When munching that third slice of toast and marmalade I allow myself on a Sunday morning (diet is so important to us middle-aged types) I find that John Naughton's piece on personal data leads me to spluttering Seville's finest all over the kittens as they angle for the remains of the fry-up. He opens with this phrase: “ …

  1. Zog_but_not_the_first
    Unhappy

    Not so fast

    "people don't seem to value that data, that information, about who they are, where they are or what they do - or not very much."

    I believe they do, or would if they knew the extent of tracking undertaken by these Internet giants. The fact that much of this is done (effectively) by stealth, or "permitted" by terms buried deep in the T&C muesli rather undermines this argument.

    1. Alister

      Re: Not so fast

      Sorry Zog, but I disagree with you, and I think Tim is correct. Those of us who have some technical background, or some other interest in IT, are aware of the extent to which the Facebooks, Googles etc use the data they are handed, and therefore value our privacy, and our data.

      However, if you have any dealings with "normal" people, they really, really don't care, and will ignore anyone who tries to tell them different. Even if you try to explain to them "the extent of tracking undertaken by these Internet giants" as you put it, they just think you are paranoid or misinformed.

      The vast majority of the population Do Not Care about their personal data.

      1. Zog_but_not_the_first

        Re: Not so fast

        Point taken about ordinary people. But I bet if you dumped a printout of tracking results in front of them they might see things differently.

        I was describing an app on my phone recently to a group of friends who probably qualify as normal people. It's one that's triggered by an incorrect PIN entry and collects and emails GPS data, images and a short sound/video clip taken using the front camera in "stealth mode". All useful stuff in the event of a phone theft.

        "Stealth mode"!!?? You could see the lightbulbs going on when they realised that phones can "do things" without their intervention.

        1. goldcd

          I can top that

          Get your average person with maybe an Android phone and a google account to go to:

          https://maps.google.com/locationhistory

          Can only speak for myself, other OS and search giants may vary.

          I knew they were doing this. I kindof was OK with it - and it's not as if they're even trying to hide this info from you... but... there's just something about seeing it...

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge
            Big Brother

            Re: I can top that

            The first time I just put a post code and no house number into my Satnav and it said "You have reached your destination" right outside the front door of a house I had never been to before, but was where I was collecting my teenage daughter from a school friend, I thought it was really creepy.

            When it did this outside the house of a her friend's grandparents in a long road in a part of the town I hadn't been to before I thought it was really really creepy

            After this sort of thing had happened on numerous occasions I thought it was really really really creepy.

            So I'm quite relieved that Google's location history didn't know where I was with the address I usually use for email. I have a Windows phone and I have a different address for each device I use.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "The vast majority of the population Do Not Care about their personal data"

        They do care, they just don't understand! Don't care and being technically illiterate are not the same thing! So many people don't work in IT like we do and they're too time starved to study the nuances of all this stuff.

        Furthermore they're lied to on a daily basis by sales staff online and in-store, who themselves know nothing. Most people have no idea about Smartphones and Location Services or Smart TV's and the accompanying 50 page privacy disclosure document. And IoT, that's completely alien!

        The big tech shittycorps are taking full advantage of people's tech illiteracy. But that's not the same thing as saying they don't care.... They do care, they just don't understand!

        1. tom dial Silver badge

          Re: "The vast majority of the population Do Not Care about their personal data"

          "So many people don't work in IT like we do and they're too time starved to study the nuances of all this stuff."

          And are we therefore entitled, in our anonymity, to form judgments on their behalf and have the government regulate behavior accordingly using its monopoly on the lawful use of force?

          I do not think so.

          The enthusiasm to impose government regulation on Bad Things is matched only by demands to end government overreach and supposed tyranny represented by such agencies as NSA and GCHQ. More often than not, the somewhat contradictory impulses are espoused by the same individuals.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "The vast majority of the population Do Not Care about their personal data"

          Yep, lies are pedalled wholesale for as reason.

          Digital land grabs are the true value proposition here, not annual profits or even EBITDA. The economist that started all this debate mentioned completely missed what is probably the largest driver of investment and innovative effort in the world today; the maintenance and future uses of our all human data.

          It is no co-incidence that they created a market where populations value their data at practically nothing. Why should they chose to pay more when it would affect their bottom line? Our actual value, in reality is less than a pawn to them once they own, know and control everything.

          Or more realistically an ant: (Does an ant contain more or less DNA than a human?)

          If that sounds far-fetched to you, consider this:

          Everyone understands that modern connectivity makes it possible to weaponise software. So far only the use of malicious software has been clandestine, targetted and in comparison to how it will be done in future, amateur. However the worst software, like the worst weapon, is just a tool.

          What is actually happening, for the first time ever, is wholesale weaponisation of data. What they do with yours, is more than just your problem, it is your children's, and others' too.

          Remember the Jews in Holland in WWII, whose names and addresses were all kept by the Dutch government. The Nazis found the datastore, and in a matter of weeks, they were dead.

      3. Indolent Wretch

        Re: Not so fast

        And I would have to disagree further, and I also think Tim is correct. I have a great deal of a technical background and a whole lifetime spent in IT. I am very keenly aware of the extent to which the Facebook, Googles etc use the data they are handed, and to the extent I value my privacy and my data I'm happy with them using it the way they do.

        "the extent of tracking undertaken by these Internet giants" I don't think so far has mattered the slightest amount to my life or caused me any issues at all. I can't see it doing so in the immediate or medium future either.

        Can someone here please describe a way in which the "the extent of tracking" has caused any sort of real issue as opposed to a sense of disquiet?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not so fast

          It's okay until the Police start working with Facebook and other sites to work on matching the general profile of a user with that of a typical criminal.

          It's been done more generally already as mentioned by Boris Johnson when talking about the sorts of things potential terrorists are likely to be looking at online.

          1. Lusty

            Re: Not so fast

            "It's okay until the Police start working with Facebook and other sites"

            But that doesn't make Facebook or Google evil, and that's not Facebook or Google misusing your data. That is the state misusing and abusing your data which Facebook and Google were using for perfectly harmless things like advertising.

            Those on this site who think the answer is to not use Google or Facebook are mistaken, the answer is to replace your government with a trustworthy one which will not take such liberties and will instead make sure you and your data are protected.

        2. Matt Bryant Silver badge
          Go

          Re: Indolent Wretch Re: Not so fast

          ".......Can someone here please describe a way in which the "the extent of tracking" has caused any sort of real issue as opposed to a sense of disquiet?" Well, for the techno-hippies, the problem is these activities generate profit, that is "some evil capitalist somewhere makes money". The work those capitalists put into making that money, the individual creative thought in creating the business processes and systems, the skills in exploiting such a market opportunity, this all means nothing to the hippy (techno- or otherwise) because they have been raised on a diet of "capitalism is very, very bad and will eat your babies".

          Many, many years ago, before Google even existed as a glint in Larry's or Sergey's eyes, I worked on computer systems that did almost exactly the same thing for supermarkets. Each person that bought anything through an electronic till provided marketing data. It was used for forecasting shopping habits, such as how many bottles of lemonade to order in advance each summer depending on previous shopping history and weather predictions. Big, BIG profits if you got it right, big losses if you got it wrong. But there was actually an environmental side to it that the hippies never got, and which the techno-hippies still fail to get today because they are too fixated on being "exploited by capitalists".

          When a supermarket chain gets it right it not only means happier shoppers (just ask Venezualens how empty shelves make them feel), it also means less waste, benefitting the economy and the environment. For example, an incorrect forecast that lamb burgers will be all the rage next year could see farmers tearing up hedges to make larger meadows and breeding more lambs, and more burger factories being built (and workers being employed) on the idea more lamb is needed. But, when the lack of demand leads to a glut of lamb burgers, what happens is that the farmers are left with lambs they cannot sell; the burger factories may lay off employees or close those new factories completely; the supermarkets throw away perfectly good excess food, then have to bump up their prices on other products to still make a profit; the shoppers end up paying those higher prices on other products; the environment suffers from the dumped food, the wasted energy used to produce it, the impact on the land of having raised the unwanted livestock, and the pollution from the distribution of unwanted stock. It's simply better for everyone when forecasting is good. Successful businesses (such as supermarkets) employ more people (whose pay is used to buy goods and services, benefitting others in the economy), pay taxes (OK, try to ignore Google's and Amazon's corporate tax games, their employees still pay income tax), and supply the goods and services that give the rest of us the time to get on with our lives (otherwise we'd all still be hunter-gatherers).

          Forecasting makes for an efficient commercial economy which has benefits both to shoppers and sellers, and reduces waste which indirectly reduces environmental impact. Similarly, when Google and co do their analytics and tell their customers "next year is not going to see a rise in lamb burger demand" they are helping make the economy more efficient. So, Google and co collecting your info from the Web do the same benefit for us all, only the environmental and economic impact are even more hidden to the average consumer than with supermarket forecasting. The only problem is getting the hippies to see past the "capitalist profit" problem.

          1. Tim Worstal

            Re: Indolent Wretch Not so fast

            Roughly speaking, roughly you understand, you've just described Walmart. Their integration of what wsa selling at the tills v what they should be shipping from the depots and what they should be ordering from the suppliers was, for decades, well ahead of their competitors.

            It may not be true today (no idea) but really Walmart under Sam was an IT business.

            1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

              Re: Indolent Wretch Not so fast

              Shops have done purchase-based stock-ordering forecasting for centuries, with pen and paper. Lyons pioneered doing it electronically in the 1950s.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              @Tim Re: Indolent Wretch Not so fast

              Oh what I can say... ;-)

              But then again... Walmart hires lawyers and they will hunt me down and kill me. ;-)

          2. h4rm0ny

            Re: Indolent Wretch Not so fast

            >>Similarly, when Google and co do their analytics and tell their customers "next year is not going to see a rise in lamb burger demand" they are helping make the economy more efficient"

            All of your post up to this point is supportable and reasonable. And then you make this giant leap from what you're talking about to Google's profiling of people being the same thing.

            1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

              Re: h4rm0ny Re: Indolent Wretch Not so fast

              ".....All of your post up to this point is supportable and reasonable....." So you're saying you can accept the idea that the efficiencies introduced by the supermarkets processing shoppers' data is "good" but cannot see how the same applies to Google? Consider a company with no market data, they have to market a dozen products equally as they have no idea which is actually going to be the more popular. Now, with Google supplying market data, they can tailor their advertising to match the market interest. This saves them money, which is good for them, and might actually lead to better sales. More companies saving money and at the same time selling more is good for the economy. Therefore, Google hawking your data is "good".

          3. Dan Paul

            Re: Indolent Wretch Not so fast @Matt Bryant

            Have an upvote. I was just going to use the Supermarket Loyalty Card example and you beat me to it.

            I learned the following from a co-worker who used to support the database of the distributor of many grocery products. The loyalty card data from your shopping saves the store owner thousands over it's lifetime. Combined with all shoppers data, it is enough money to pay for a new Point of Sale system outright and leave plenty left.

            The data not only tells them what you purchase but when and whether a sale influences your purchase of alternative products. So your card tells the store owner what to buy and how often so there is less waste and more profit.

            It is proof that the data has value and the store renumerates you by giving you a lower price.

            If it wasn't for all the paranoia out there, that would be considered a "fair trade".

            What we really need is an identification system that cannot be hacked, then the loss of data would have less impact

          4. Ian Michael Gumby

            @Matt Bryant ...Re: Indolent Wretch Not so fast

            In Chicago, there are a couple of companies that had been collecting data.

            Nielsen Media, Symphony and a couple of others...

            The difference is that when you make a purchase from a store, they capture the data. but they aggregate it and its not your, Matt B's purchased a pack of condoms (I won't say the size ... ;-) , but at Store X in City Y, n number of condoms brand XYZ was sold.

            Pretty big difference from that in to knowing that

            You bought the following: condoms, duct tape, a ski-mask, rope/cord and a flashlight.

            And then Uber knows you scheduled a ride service to take you from your home to where your ex lives.

            Now the funny part. Many would assume that you may be out for revenge, yet you bought the duct tape, flashlight and rope/cord, to fix some duct work in your loft and the ski mast because you live in the North Midwest and its cold out. Yes, the condoms are for you and your ex because... welll, you got back together for some make up sex.

            (Shame on those who jumped to conclusions. ) ;-)

            But you see Matt, that's the point. Thanks to Google, they know what you bought, (everything), where you searched online, and if you have gmail. Your emails have been read. (By a machine of course.) What you read online.. websites visited.. etc ..

            All your thought belong to them... ;-)

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not so fast

          >Can someone here please describe a way in which the "the extent of tracking" has caused any sort of real issue as opposed to a sense of disquiet?

          I imagine those Chinese dissidents Yahoo ratted on might explain to you how a tiger bench is more than just a sense of disquiet.

        4. goldcd

          easy

          https://maps.google.com/locationhistory

          into the browser of your wife's laptop/phone/tablet (should she have embraced their universe)

        5. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

          Re: Not so fast

          So, Indolent Wretch, you are happy with the way Facebook and Google use your data, many other people (also with technical knowledge) are not. It is fair to say there is a range of sensitivity to this among the technical community, and each person makes their own decisions based on their sensitivity and the perceived risk. The non-technical majority are denied that choice by their ignorance, and they probably have just the same range of sensitivity as us. The data-slurping companies are exploiting that ignorance, and asymmetric information is acknowledged as detrimental to efficient markets.

      4. Florida1920

        Re: Not so fast

        The vast majority of the population Do Not Care about their personal data.

        Oh, well, that makes it all right then.

        1. Alister

          Re: Not so fast @florida1920

          Oh, well, that makes it all right then.

          I'm not saying that it's a good thing, quite the reverse, but I don't know how you change it, given the apathy and disinterest of the majority of the clickerati...

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Alister - Re: Not so fast

        So Google & al give you search and email and in exchange, they take your personal data from you. I will side with you the day when Google will offer paid search and email in exchange on not touching your personal data. For those who would care, of course.

      6. Jim 59

        Re: Not so fast

        Disagree with Alister's conclusion.

        The vast majority of the population Do Not Care about their personal data.

        That is a bit like looking at the UK population and their widespread obesity, and concluding that most people do not care about their own health or future. Not quite true.

        The majority of Facebook users are too young to know that "personal data" is a thing. Their older siblings have some idea it is a thing but have not formed a view. Their parents know it is a real thing and some act on it, while others assume it can't be helped and so exclude it from consideration.

        A bit like junk food. Infants don't know it is bad. Older children do. Parents know and may act on it (feed their kids wholemeal bread) while others don't bother (fizzy pop). Like over-sharing, a diet of junk food has consequences for you and your future, and understanding that requires a degree of maturity and learning that many of the users have not yet attained.

      7. h4rm0ny

        Re: Not so fast

        Worstall's argument pretty much goes wrong at this point: "And that's what leads to the spraying: the assumption being made that people who are trading something they don't value much for something they value more is a market failure."

        Firstly, it remains a wrong thing for people to give away something valuable even if they don't realize its value. Witness any case of people being swindled out of something they didn't know was a precious antique, etc. Is their lack of awareness of its value relevant to whether it is right or wrong? I would say it is clearly not. Secondly, it assumes choice. Google probably has a very substantial profile on me by now because its tracking is implanted in much of the web. I'm faced with a choice of make major career-impacting decisions to give up the Web, expend large amounts of effort trying to fight all the tracking or accept that I am "trading" away something whether I want to or not.

        And most things you trade, btw, you can eventually replace or get back. Privacy not so much.

        Finally, I'm not much of one for arguing on principles, I'm more about practical effects. Such a degree of monitoring and personal profiling and normalization of loss of privacy is dangerous. Our current degree of freedom in the West is a historical blip in terms of human history. It can be lost again and such monitoring as this - and I know people with think this is hysterical paranoia but sadly it is actually true - is a very powerful weapon in taking that freedom away.

        1. Apriori

          Re: Not so fast

          This is exactly the kind of thinking that gave us such triumphs as the French mercantilist economic system and Soviet (and post war Labour) economic planning. If I value gold and you value oil an I am sitting on a pile of oil which is good for nothing but poisoning my crops, and you come and offer me gold, I shall be delighted. I will use the gold to buy other things which I want but don't or cannot produce.

          Nothing has intrinsic value, value is constructed entirely in markets.

          Of course, you can get the situation where you have to buy things that no-one would want, like sub standard education and health care, but that's where taxation comes it.

      8. goldcd

        I've got another post floating somewhere in this thread

        about me agreeing with the article.

        However, should you be 'concerned' with tracking, install the Ghostery plugin.

        Gives you a list of the tracking 'stuff' on each page you visit (and the option to block as you see fit).

        Whilst I might have said I was 'OK' - it's quite alarming when you visit the odd site and 30 different tracking vectors come flying up in a pop-up.

      9. TheOtherHobbes

        Re: Not so fast

        >they just think you are paranoid or misinformed.

        This simply proves that the victims aren't giving informed consent. It's not that they don't value what they're losing, it's that they don't understand the value.

        That's rather different, isn't it?

        Of course, to corporate cheerleaders like Worstall informed consent for the peasants is always a bad thing because it makes tacky mincemeat of his whole argument.

        The reality is that transactions without informed consent are no different to robbing an old granny of her savings to pay for a new drive she doesn't need, so the builder can buy himself a BMW. She gets a new drive - hurrah for growth! - but she loses a lot more than she realises. (And the drive is probably crap anyway.)

        You could argue 'as a rational economic actor she shoulda known' - but no, really you can't, because not everyone is all about the hustle.

        Which is as it should be. And - frankly - sod 'markets' as an excuse for petty larceny anyway.

    2. Ian 56

      Re: Not so fast

      I agree.

      "A voluntary transaction is, by definition, mutually beneficial."

      Hard to believe somebody could write that without irony.

      It's only true if both parties have full access to all relevant information, and have the tools* to process that information. If not then it is, by definition, not mutually beneficial. It is, generally speaking, one party "leveraging** their superior bargaining position" - or in laymen's terms: a rip-off.

      * Think: knowledge of the jargon, legalese, full awareness of the consequences of the transaction, full awareness of your legal rights and responsibilities, etc, etc.

      ** ugh

      1. Indolent Wretch

        Re: Not so fast

        Not at all.

        If not then it is, by definition, "possibly" not mutually beneficial. It is, generally speaking, one part "having the ability" to leverage their superior bargaining position. It makes no statement whatsoever as to whether they are actually doing it or to what extent.

        I may know the car has a dodgy exhaust but if I'm selling you the car at a rock bottom price I'm not necessarily ripping you off.

      2. auburnman

        Re: Not so fast

        "Hard to believe somebody could write that without irony."

        With you there. When Tim got to actually using taxation as an example of a 'voluntary transaction' I had to wonder if he's trying to troll us. While I'm sure you could voluntarily dodge tax, I'm pretty sure there are consequences for not doing so...

        1. Ian 56

          Re: Not so fast

          Another example of a "voluntary transaction": a confidence trick.

          1. smartypants

            Re: Confidence Trick

            When I use Google, I'm not being tricked into thinking I'm using a search engine. It really is one. It really is useful. Very useful. So it's valuable.

            And it's free.

            It also comes with adverts. I understand they'll use my habits to tailor the ads I see. I don't really care about that. In fact, I think if I am to see adverts, I would prefer them to be relevant to me.

            If that's my 'payment' to them, then it's hardly like a confidence trick is it?

            1. Ian 56

              Re: Confidence Trick

              Never said it was. It's a response to the assertion that:

              "A voluntary transaction is, by definition, mutually beneficial."

              ... which is obvious cobblers.

              I might also take mild issue with the idea that submitting to Google tracking is "free". I guess it depends on your definition of the word and, specifically, whether you're only implying a financial meaning. Here's another:

              4. (free of/from) Not subject to or affected by (something undesirable):

              http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/free?searchDictCode=all

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Confidence Trick

              Use of genuinely anonymised search data to customise ads you see is probably just the start of it. But anonymisation can't be genuine if customisation is occurring. What about the contents of emails sent from or to their servers ? And then there's all the location data picked up by mobile operating systems. It's the job of a PLC to maximise the bottom line. Third parties who purchase this data are the customers and your data is the product. And the more closely the data can be profiled against the individual the more valuable the data. This makes so called "anonymisation" a bit of a fig leaf to satisfy the data regulators such as the ICO, who are always going to be many years behind the action.

              I can imagine a future world in which data gets sliced and diced and sold through a couple of levels and I can ask some dodgy handle via a darknet market in exchange for bitcoins for information about an individual's current movements and locations identified through characteristics still present within the data having been reunited with the names concerned, and Google and Facebook et al have achieved plausible deniability.Perhaps it's happening already, under our noses. And it can all be done using some random looking hash values to join the tables concerned. It will certainly reduce the cost of a private investigation, and improve the results given the reduced need for gumshoes on the ground.

              1. Pu02

                Re: Confidence Trick

                "Perhaps it's happening already, under our noses. And it can all be done using some random looking hash values to join the tables concerned" Perhaps? Just cos the authorities are having trouble collecting, storing doesn't mean they are the only ones who can't access it, store it or effectively join the dots. There are too many that can do that, with current let alone future business models (land to grab, investment to gain) for it not to be happening. Take one look a t the latest investments, they are all about applied use of big data, let alone intelligent algorithms.

                "It will certainly reduce the cost of a private investigation, and improve the results given the reduced need for gumshoes on the ground". Sure. Once there are no jobs for drivers, back-office staff, they'll need to lay off police and intelligence gatherers to keep demonstrating how valuable big data is. Replacing the government's control of its community is a key final step, enabling for the world's richest 1% to consume Governments whole and ransom every last skerrick of value from the other 99%, who presently still control 50% of the worlds resources, damn them!

                Digital land grabs are the true value proposition here, not annual profits or even EBITDA. The economist that started all this missed probably the driver of investment and human innovation in the world today.

              2. This post has been deleted by its author

            3. Jim 59

              Re: Confidence Trick

              @smartypants Lol. Google's penetration of your life goes a little but further than targeted banner ads. If the Faustian bargain were favourable to you, Google would be trumpeting it from the rooftops...

      3. cowbutt

        Re: Not so fast

        Fair enough, but what's the alternative; assume that no-one has and have an - at best, paternalistic - government deciding what's right for everyone regardless of their competency in assessing the costs of any given transaction? No thanks!

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not so fast

        It is, generally speaking, one party "leveraging** their...

        upvoted for the use of leverage. we used to use it in the sense of "I leveraged this router from work when we decommissioned a rack", where the superior bargaining position was provided by positioning a car next to the door.

        1. The Dude

          Re: Not so fast

          Leveraging... I "leverage" used and obsolete equipment frequently, for the benefit of disadvantaged children who have no computer and want one. The businesses that the machines are "leveraged" from don't want them, they cost too much to maintain or upgrade and they are too slow for modern applications. But these machines work just fine for web browsing and email, and are much better than nothing - which is what the kids have now.

          There is no "bargaining position" to be concerned with, it is an efficient and socially approved way of using computers destined for the scrap heap.

      5. The Dude

        Re: Not so fast

        This nonsense about "full access to all relevant information" is crap, and always has been a crap argument. Nobody ever, has "full" or "all", and so what? One of the things people are rather good at is the ability to understand and make decisions based on partial information and limited access. Information about most any complex matter arrives, usually, in dribs and drabs over time, and understanding that information can take a while longer. If markets only worked when people have "all" and "full" then there would be no functional market anywhere ever.

        So, let's please dispense with that stupid argument once and for all. Voluntary exchanges can, and do, work just fine with "some" and "partial". Which is not an argument against truth in advertising or in favor of fraudulent claims, because that's quite a different matter.

      6. ElectricRook

        Re: Not so fast

        In the eyes of a socialist, the statement "A voluntary transaction is, by definition, mutually beneficial." is complete heresy.

        Socialists and other spoil't brats being unable to see themselves in the eyes of others, selfishly think everything should be given to them without recompense.

    3. Ian Michael Gumby
      FAIL

      Its out of control... Re: Not so fast

      "people don't seem to value that data, that information, about who they are, where they are or what they do - or not very much."

      I believe they do, or would if they knew the extent of tracking undertaken by these Internet giants. The fact that much of this is done (effectively) by stealth, or "permitted" by terms buried deep in the T&C muesli rather undermines this argument.

      -=-

      I have to agree with you that its not a question of our valuation of the data.

      Its that we don't have control over the data being captured.

      Suppose you're like me. You don't have a FB account.

      Yet unless you install a script blocker in your web browser and stop certain scripts from running, if you visit a site that FB has an agreement with, FB would now have data about you and will build a profile about you.

      Same for Google.

      So I may choose to avoid using a service from FB or Google, yet they still capture information about me. And here's the rub. A company may not sell or have a contract in place to share this information, but that they may do so because their IT guy grabbed some code that embedded scripts from FB and Google.

      And it gets worse.

      Google analytics.

      Its a catch-22.

      Google uses data collected from these tools to help do page ranks so if you're El-Reg, you might want to take out the google analytics code. But in doing so, you may no longer show up in their web statistics.

      Which hurts the site so that they have an economic reason to run google analytics.

      But from an end user... we have no control over the capture and sharing of this information, regardless of the data protection laws.

      Again the point is that sites may unknowingly be sharing data w Google, FB, and others without knowing it because they don't audit their website's javascript.

      1. Looper
        Angel

        Re: Its out of control... Not so fast

        Uh? Yes. You do: have control over the capture and sharing of your information.

        You can research the best, then install and learn how to use ad-blockers, flash-blockers, script -blockers, cookie-blockers until you have a very good idea what each and every website is trying to do as soon as it loads.

        You will eventually get a feel for what needs to be active to run any website and then make a call whether you want that website to track or gather information about you, or not. Most of the time you can get away with blocking all of the nasty scripts and ads quite easily.

        Certain websites will insist on allowing all ads and tracking scripts in order to function. As far as I am concerned, those web-shites are never allowed to execute fully functional on my hardware.

    4. Dharma

      Re: Not so fast

      I certainly knew what I was getting into with Google, and agreed to the bargain -- but I've never agreed with all the other tracking going on, most of it with no benefit to me. As far as I'm concerned, everyone except Google (And Amazon) is stealing my data.

  2. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. MatthewSt

      Re: An alternative approach.

      Pretty sure that part of the headline was meant to be sarcastic... And the author has the same opinion that you do!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: An alternative approach.

      There is a market for such services, use the brains God gave you and look for alternatives. In my case those that do not syphon off your data, do not treat you as a commodity and tie you in in any way.

      Unlike the author I do value my personal data and put a value on it higher than that offered by the likes of Google or Facebook.

      You seem to be making his argument for him. In your case the benefit on offer isn't worth the cost, so you don't do the deal; in his case it is, so he does. You're willing instead to trade hard cash for those services, which is fine for you, but many other people obviously* value things differently.

      *Assuming they understand the scope of what they're trading, which admittedly they may well not.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        A different data point…

        Well, I, for one, do have the technical background; I do know that Google is grabbing my data, and doing all kind of stuff with it.

        Still don't care. Still use it. They show me ads. About the risk of data theft, I trust Google's security rather higher than any bank or credit card company, or government for that matter.

        So Google knows my emails, knows I watch porn, knows where I live, where I work, who I know. They probably have a rough estimate of how much I earn too. And I sleep well at night.

        But I post this as AC, you ask? Because I trust you people less than Google.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I don't have a problem with it.

          So you shouldn't either.

          And if you do, then you are a fool.

          You must be, because I have a technical background.

          And I don't know how to interact with other humans.

          Or respect their opinions.

          Or respect their privacy.

  3. Paw Bokenfohr

    "people don't seem to value that data, that information, about who they are, where they are or what they do"

    I think you miss the point - it's not that people don't value it, it's that they have no way to value it. It's the equivalent of the old granny turning up on the Antiques Roadshow with a missing Turner or Picasso. She had no idea of its worth, just as she doesn't have any idea of the worth of her data.

    Possibly she would make the same calculation and conclusion as you did, that she gets value for money for the services she receives, but what sticks in many people's throats is that Facebook, Google, et al go out of their way to obscure how much privacy and data you're sacrificing (how much you're "paying" in this analogy) and also go out of their way to ensure that they are under no obligation to provide anything for any amount of time in any way (T&Cs) in exchange for this cost.

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Nice analogy.

      People don't think about the value of the data most of the time Have a look what happens when they do:

      "Survey respondents said the most valuable data was personal income, followed by the email addresses of close friends and family. Demographic data is less highly valued, although it’s incredibly valuable to fraudsters. The total value however is significant: £140 (€170) per consumer"

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/10/01/personal_data_priced_and_its_a_lot/

      Tim doesn't want to look the gift horse in the mouth. But when we do just that, the proposition doesn't look like such a fabulous deal. And that's counting the opportunity cost of market destruction.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Is the issue that people don't want Google to have their data, or merely that they think Google should pay them more for it?

      2. Gordon 10 Silver badge
        Stop

        @Andrew

        But you have to take that one step further Andrew, and actually look at of those who valued their data at 140 quid - how many actually took their search/email etc business away from Google. And that's without getting into the fact that that 140 was the total for all data and all its uses.

        If they didn't move away from Google - all it confirms is that they value Googles services to the tune of £140. all you have done is confirmed Tims point but disputed the actual "fer instance" value he chose.

        Now Im hoping that increasing valuation of data is an indicator that the Tech giants are going to get a shock - but the realist in me suspects its going to be over a very long timescale.

        And as for Market Destruction - I don't think you should conflate the services Google provides to earn its revenues with what it does with those revenues. For instance you might be perfectly happy with Googles use of your personal data but not with its destructive intentions for Copyright, or vice versa, or be one of a large group that don't like either - but they are essentially 2 separate things.

        1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

          @Gordon 10

          "Now Im hoping that increasing valuation of data is an indicator that the Tech giants are going to get a shock - but the realist in me suspects its going to be over a very long timescale."

          What makes you think the value of that data will increase? Supply and demand tells me it will only go down.

          The problem is that inferred data is nowhere near as valuable as revealed preference data. If I sell yachts, and I know you've bought two yachts in the past, I don't really care what your inside leg measurement is. It's the yacht purchasers that matter.

        2. Dr Stephen Jones

          @Andrew Orlowski

          What's your inside leg measurement?

      3. Niels Rakhorst

        yeah but, no but

        That £140 is partly based on the aggregate, on the size of audience Google, Facebook etc can provide. An advertiser can get an audience of millions of any particular demographic that suits their product, which gives them a great impact for the cost of producing the ad.

        I imagine an individual, or niche website with a small number of users, couldn't get anything like £140 per consumer.

        1. veti Silver badge

          Re: yeah but, no but

          That £140 figure is complete 100% unadulterated clickbait moonshine, as I posted at the time. It's just a pseudo-random figure that some "experts" pulled out of their backsides, with no justification or rationalisation worth the name at all.

          I don't often agree wholeheartedly with Tim, but in this case he's right on the money and providing a valuable public service. Nobody forces me to use Gmail, I use it because it provides me a good service, and I don't begrudge Google whatever it can earn from analysing the data it gets in exchange.

          I do, however, wish it would be a bit more upfront about what it does collect from me, because I know "my email" is the least of it.

          1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

            Re: yeah but, no but

            " It's just a pseudo-random figure that some "experts" pulled out of their backsides"

            No, the figure is the selling price of that data, in an open transaction. It's what people said they would sell for.

            Like Tim, everything is for the best and you just don't want to look the Gift Horse in the Mouth. You do sound very eager to rubbish any evidence that might contradict this view.

            My position is not that "Google is evil", but that there are also many costs to the enormous consumer surplus generated Silicon Valley companies giving away services (and other people's stuff) for free. They don't do it because they're nice, you know.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Taking the Picasso argument further, the value of his work is arguably all in the market-making, the art dealers and the tastes of rich elites. I'm sure there are works of equivalent merit that are worth lots less because they are not as popular.

        In this case, it is Google itself who has managed to make "worthless" individual shopping and reading habits valuable, because it has worked out whom it is valuable to AND has persuaded them to buy it.

        So, they're taking away my shit for free, no, they pay me for it with valuable services. They've worked out how to extract a small value from it and sell it on into the market they have largely created - like the first to recognise how to use excreta as fertiliser and tanning agents.

        Sure they could probe though it and find out lots about me, but hey, I'm getting top-notch services for free, and I've an inexhaustible supply.

        1. LDS Silver badge

          Those data are not worthless. They were just difficult to collect and store for analysis. The value was there already - and there were already approaches to collect them (ask Nielsen...), but it was unfeasible to collect them easily and at a very low cost. Google didn't invent people and market analytics, just was able to up it to a scale never seen before. Just like radio/television ads were more effective because you couldn't skip them as you can do on a printed page. New media that allows for better exploiting of old techniques.

          Worstall has just published an article were people working for a credit card processing companies were able to "beat the market" because they were in a unique position to collect easily those data and across different customers. And that was illegal because it was insider trading. Google was able to put itself in a position to collect those data easily and across domains, and exactly because it's in that position, rules about how to handle personal data has to be created and followed.

        2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
          Happy

          like the first to recognise how to use excreta as fertiliser and tanning agents.

          Hmmm. I just suffered from some disturbing mental images after reading that sentence slightly amiss. I knew that the celebs who go orange, or even David Dickinson Brown had been using tanning products, but I'm now imagining someone saving the valuable contents of post-hangover toilets, in order to get that special shade for Mr Dickinson. Previously I'd assumed he used Cupranol quick drying wood stain. Now the slogan running through my head is, "does exactly what it says on the bowl"...

          Pass the mind bleach please.

  4. Ironclad

    EULAs

    I think the reason people cry foul so often at Google and Facebook is the hidden Ts & Cs in the EULAs

    "If I swap my apples for your pears then I must value those pears more than I do the apples"

    but if I swap my apples for your pears on the understanding it's a straight swap

    and the next day I'm bombarded by adverts for pear recipes, pear juice sellers and three tree surgeons

    knock on my door insisting they have the best price on pruning my orchard I'm more likely

    to think, actually, I'll keep my apples thanks.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: EULAs

      "but if I swap my apples for your pears on the understanding it's a straight swap and the next day I'm bombarded by adverts for pear recipes,"

      At least thanks to Google that's what we get now, we used to get apple recipes the next day.

  5. Peshman

    Free lunch anyone?

    So, a free web browser, email account and search service is being offered and you assume you're being offered a free lunch? What? You didn't realise that they'd want some sort of return on the investment?

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Free lunch anyone?

      Which is why I don't use them.

      That said, after the stink in the national press the last couple of weeks over Facebook, I know several people who have deleted their accounts or have asked questions about whether they should keep their Facebook accounts.

      1. Ian Michael Gumby

        Re: Free lunch anyone?

        You can't actually delete your FB account.

        Once made, it exists.

        Just in case you change your mind.

        ;-)

      2. veti Silver badge

        Re: Free lunch anyone?

        I know several people who have deleted their Facebook accounts

        An oldie but goodie. Thanks, I needed the chuckle.

  6. Alan Denman

    re - "the basic mistake that Lanier is making and that Naughton is endorsing "

    It is no mistake,

    They are bigging up high cost services. The main difference being that with these high cost services there more incentive to be gospel sheep like above.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    slurp your data ?

    There is an app for that.

  8. DragonLord

    Expanding on Zogs comment. I think the problem isn't that google, facebook, et al being able to use the information that we've explicitly given them. It's that they have ways of harvesting information that we haven't explicitly given them. Such as the like buttons that pop up everywhere tell them what articles you've been reading even if you don't explicitly like that article. Every time your mobile app checks it, it gives them your location. Or the chrome browsers habit of sending everything you type into the url bar to google even if you aren't using google as your search engine.

    And then there's the class of information that people don't think about - such as email verification e-mails telling google that you've signed up to that racy porn site.

    1. GregC

      "And then there's the class of information that people don't think about - such as email verification e-mails telling google that you've signed up to that racy porn site"

      If you're using your day-to-day, personal gmail account to sign up for porn sites then you're doing it wrong. That's what a secondary hotmail account is for*

      *Ahem. Not that I'd know about pron site signups. Obviously.

      1. Ian Michael Gumby

        It doesn't matter.

        You visit the p0rn site.

        You are being tracked by Google.

        Even if you log in to said p0rn site with an identity associated to a hotmail account. Google knows its still you and now associates said hotmail site to you as an alias.

        Google doesn't need cookies anymore. They already know who you are, even if you've switched to a different machine, as long as that machine touched an account affiliated with you.

        Yeah, you have no where to hide.

        The problem.

        I don't have an android phone.

        I don't use chrome.

        I don't use FB

        I don't use google search.

        Yet Google and FB can still get information about me without my approval.

        That's the issue.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Almost true.

    I almost agree with the article. I would only add that the transaction on the market needs to be based on accurate information and understanding. So if a transaction is voluntary and based on informed consent, then there shouldn't really be anything to complain about.

    If the user is uninformed, or mistaken, meaning that the other party (google etc.) does not inform the customer about what they will do with the informaion (handing it over to the NSA etc.), then it is not a free market operation.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who cares about how your image is presented on the Internet.

    IMHO, those who use social Media don't.

    A wee bit of instant gratification when you post yest another cat video, what you did last night (naughty, naughty) etc etc is instantly gobbled up by the likes of Google and Facbook.

    Over time they can build a profile of you, who you are, what you like and where you live, go on holiday etc etc etc.

    This is gold dust to them and their Advertising buddies. They hold so mush data on pretty well all of us that people like MI5/NSA/FBI etc can only be having wet dreams about getting their mits on it.

    Some of us avoid Favebook, Twitter etc etc etc not because we don't want our stuff out there but because we have better things to do with our life. (Reading ElReg is a nice diversion from the PHB's rants in the office).

    Others avoid Social Media because they are concerned about snooping.

    Sadly we are in the minority.

    Perhaps one day the majority will wake up and realise what is happeneing but I don't hold out for that to happen any time soon.

    1. Squander Two

      Perhaps in theory.

      > Over time they can build a profile of you, who you are, what you like and where you live, go on holiday etc etc etc.

      I use Facebook a lot (it's what you make it, and my friends are funny and intelligent). Supposedly, they are the world's leading personal-data-mining firm. And they're shit at it. They did admittedly serve me an advert for the rather excellent music made by Meiko, of whom I am now a fan. But they have also served me ads for a motorcycle hearse (WTF?) and an actual real amphibious assault vehicle (WTWTFF?). Facial-recognition and photo-scanning tech notwithstanding, they serve my entirely bald friend ads for hairdressers. They recently asked me to verify whether I went to school in New Jersey, Glasgow, or New South Wales (not one of which is in the right country). And you know those ads for hot nubile young women who inexplicably want to "meet" you that all men get bombarded with? Well, my daughter was watching the DVD of Annie and I happened to make an observation about it, and all those ads immediately changed to oiled young men in stripy leggings and leather caps who apparently wanted to "meet" me. Facebook's world-leading data-mining is at that level: they have an algorithm somewhere that says "mentioned a musical => must be gay, and probably gagging for it".

      I also use Google News, that still serves me a Sports section, despite my having scrolled quickly past it for many years.

      Yes, these people have built up a profile of me. They think I'm a promiscuous gay married American-Scottish Hell's Angel who collects military vehicles, listens to electro-pop, and is looking for a mail-order Russian bride. And that's without me trying to fool them.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Perhaps in theory.

        At the end of all that processing, there's an increasingly decent chance the woefully inaccurately targeted ad will only end up being stripped out by an adblocker in any case; Google trends shows a steady rise for searches for adblock over the past few years, and I can't see adblock installations falling anytime soon. More poorly targeted ads trying even harder to chase fewer eyeballs will only push more into installing something to get rid of them.

        Beyond the use of the data for advertising though, there doesn't seem to be anything else that would generate the large profits everyone's chasing now. With rising objection to the way data is collected and used as the process is more widely understood, I can see the whole gravy train being brought to a shuddering halt in the not too distant future.

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. Patched Out

        Re: Perhaps in theory.

        I gave you an upvote - even though that may tag me as someone who likes "a promiscuous gay married American-Scottish Hell's Angel who collects military vehicles, listens to electro-pop, and is looking for a mail-order Russian bride."

      4. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
        Happy

        Re: Perhaps in theory.

        I don't collect military vehicles either, but only because I don't have the money.

        I can't believe that there are many men who don't secretly fancy owning a tank or two - if only they had the space and the spare few tens of millions, such that they wouldn't notice the costs of owning and running one.

        There was a guy driving round central London in the 90s in a Scimitar that he'd painted bright yellow. I guess he didn't have to worry about getting clamped, or towed away, either.

      5. Havin_it

        Re: Perhaps in theory.

        >They think I'm a promiscuous gay married American-Scottish Hell's Angel who collects military vehicles, listens to electro-pop, and is looking for a mail-order Russian bride.

        Where have you been all my life?!

        Google News is a weird one. Their Weather and Local Stories sidebars appear to think I'm in Hitchin at home (ABP full block + Ghostery), and at work (just ABP "lite"):

        Chipping Norton.

        I'm in Edinburgh...

        I think somebody must read a lot of Telegraph articles at work.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Who cares about how your image is presented on the Internet.

      "This is gold dust to them and their Advertising buddies."

      And it what way are those Advertising Buddies a threat to me?

      I love this bizarre idea that because the advertising is more relevant or more targeted that suddenly I'm powerless against it and it's now a more evil thing.

      Adverts are adverts. You can ignore them. People ignore them all the time.

      If I have to see them, I'd rather they were relevant just in case.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: Who cares about how your image is presented on the Internet.

        The real issue is not advertising, although they are collecting a huge amount of data and profiles that if stolen can lead to security risks as well.

        It's that more and more companies outside the advertising industry are now interested in data they could not previously obtain. Why the obsession with wereables and health app lately? Because they can gather a lot of health data insurance and pharmaceutical companies are ready to pay with gold.

        The risk is they aren't use to help you, but *against* you - using those data to profile you and then you may have to pay a far pricier insurance, or they may refuse it because you're "too risky". You paid with your data, and in exchange you may have to pay more. Same for drugs - there are a lot of dark scenarios you can build to maximize profits using people data against them.

        It's just like advertising your position so burglars know when the house is empty, and maybe telling them also what your alarm system is and where sensors are located....

  11. LDS Silver badge

    Am I winning?

    What about those people who do know the value of their data, and don't want to give them away even if they don't use any Google service? Google Analytics does track you when you access each and every site using it, even if you don't want to use anything from Google.

    Thereby it's not data moving from those who don't value them to those who value them, it's extorting data from everybody just because you can and nobody "can" stop you.

    Also, people don't value data simply because the maximum effort is put in ensuring they don't know their value. It's just like exchanging little glass mirrors for gold... and those gathering data very well know the same data have an enourmous value especially because they can be used *against* the very same people giving them away - for example health data can be used to refuse a medical insurance - but they will sell you wereables without telling you why actually they want those device gathers and transmit so much data about you. And you won't be able to opt out (but avoiding to use such devices) even if you know it. Soon you won't be able to track your heart rate without also sending those data to someone else, even if you don't want. And this is not a "free" market, because one party is not free to choose - but becoming a luddite and thereby "punished" and forced to the lower levels of income.

    There's no difference from the exploitation of cheap labour from poor countries. Sure, the low wages for them are better than nothing, but the price of it is not set by the workers, simply because they have no way to set it even if they may know its much higher value - just they are too simply too weak to obtain the real value of their work.

    In every modern Constitution, there are provisions to protect fundamental rights of people. Otherwise market itself will happily commerce in human beings (or their parts), if it could, as it did, and sometimes still does. There are those who may not value much human beings, and happily move them were there is much higher value - women trafficking and the brothel system works this way, for example. And underage people, which from a pure financial point of view are mostly just a cost for families, could have even an higher value.... is this the world we want??

    Thereby yes, our modern society is also built on some ethical limitations to a perfectly "free market" - in the information society there could be also ethical limitations to the use of personal data because they are strictly interconnected to fundamental human rights. And giving back some cheap service cannot be an excuse to break them.

    1. BoldMan

      Re: Am I winning?

      Except I CAN stop the data harvesting (or at least reduce it) simply by installing Ghostery or other apps that block the trackers.If a device won't allow me to do that (iPad I'm looking at you) I don't use it that much. I do value my provate data and have taken steps to minimise its collection by these corporations.

      That said I still use Facebook as it provides a service that allows me to connect with family and friends around the world to a level that would not be possible otherwise. I know it harvests data on me, but I'll only tell it things I am happy to share. I won't install its apps on my phone, or let it see my address/contact book.

      1. Squander Two

        Re: Am I winning?

        > Except I CAN stop the data harvesting (or at least reduce it) simply by installing Ghostery or other apps that block the trackers.

        Do you refuse to email anyone with a Gmail account?

      2. LDS Silver badge

        Re: Am I winning?

        You can only reduce it. You can't really stop it. There are many devices you have not enough control upon, and you cannot modify to stop sending out info, even if you pay for the service. For example, I pay Sky. Some channels has ads. Yet, I do not know what informations it sends out, and it could sell them as well. I have no way to modify the decoder software to stop it - the only way would be to stop using the service altogether - and even buying DVDs you will be tracked because a lot of local stores closed and you may need to get them online... while live events are available only from sources that will track you one way or the other.

        Can you stop a friend of you share *your* telephone number (and many other data) because he or she has them in his or her contact book, and apps he or she installs happily send it to their mothership?

        IoT - if it spreads really,, and wereables, will only make things worse. More and more devices will be designed from ground up to collect and trasmit data, and you may no longer find one that doesn't.

        One day could you stop using, say a refrigerator because you can no longer find a model that works "disconnected"? Or buy goods without an RFID on them which the refrigerator will read?

        It's not something we will be able to protect ourselves from only being technically skilled and trying to "beat the system" - but living in a cave in some far mountain.

        If we believe than in this kind of society personal information have some "fundamental rights" because they are part of people fundamental rights, then they can have no price, exactly as other fundamental rights have no price you can pay to break them.

    2. Indolent Wretch

      Re: Am I winning?

      Well it's not Google tracking you, It's the owner of the website using Google to track you.

      If you have a problem I suggest you ask them. But it's their website and as long as they conform to the law they can do they what they please with it.

      Go somewhere else.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: Am I winning?

        Wrong, it's just another service Google offers "for free" to sites to gather a lot more data it won't be able to track otherwise.

        And again, I can't opt out nor I can control what sites use it - and for several reason I may be forced to use a site that use it.

        I do block it on my PCs, but I can't block it on every device that is able to access a web page.

      2. sabroni Silver badge

        Re: It's the owner of the website using Google to track you.

        But you have one GA cookei, and so google can track you across all sites with Google Analytics. The site owner only sees your interaction with their site.

        1. Madeye
          Pirate

          Re: It's the owner of the website using Google to track you.

          This gives me an idea - as there is no formal agreement between the customer and Google in the case of Google Analytics there is no requirement to submit the correct GA cookie. It wouldn't be that hard to write a browser plug-in to swap GA cookies randomly between signed up parties.

          This would reduce the value of the data held by Google proportionally to the number of people taking part. Just leave your cookies in a bowl by the door on the way in ... and wait for the vicariously juicy and exciting advertising originally intended for someone else.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Am I winning?

      "Also, people don't value data simply because the maximum effort is put in ensuring they don't know their value."

      Boy, this is just not shouted out often enough. The silence from the 'other' side of the data gathering argument is truly deafening, so the chances of the average user having the remotest idea of what is really done with their data, or its actual worth, is close to zero. Even regulators and politicians talk about it in very vague general terms, to the point you'd almost think there was a deliberate conspiracy of silence lest anyone upset the applecart.

  12. Tom Wood

    But... Google is a monopoly

    If you want to search the internet, you have to use Google (more or less).

    If you want to use Google, you have to hand them some amount of personal data.

    That's the problem. It's like you are effectively the only apple supplier in the market (OK, there are a few other tiny suppliers, but their apples are very small and not very tasty and they have limited varieties) and you insist that if I want to get some apples, I'm not only going to have to hand over my pears but also information about how many pears I grow, what variety of pears, the secret recipe for my pear crumble and so on.

    If the market were functioning correctly there would be multiple apple suppliers. One might exchange 3 apples for 2 pears plus all that data, and another might exchange 2 apples for 2 pears plus no data, and I'd have a meaningful choice.

    1. John G Imrie

      If you want to search the internet, you have to use Google

      Don't believe the hype.

    2. Squander Two

      Re: But... Google is a monopoly

      I usually use Bing. Always a great photo.

    3. Doctor_Wibble

      And the problem is also Other People

      It's not just the near-monopoly, it's the fact that even as a non-user your information - easiest example being emails and email addresses - ends up in the hands of these companies for processing even though you never entered into any kind of agreement with them.

      On the one hand, an email sent is no longer my property so in theory the recipient can file it any way they like, but on the other it is still subject to a degree of trust, which some seem to think doesn't count for anything any more.

      The bigger problem though is the *permitted* address-book slurping that people get done when joining 'social' sites or 'freebie' email providers (or 'manage my address book apps), not just because that now incorporates me as a node in some unknown mapping but because it's all in one handy place to get grabbed and sold to spammers every time someone clicks on a flashing bleepy thing and every time one of these companies gets hacked.

      The free service is not in exchange for *your* information it is for that of other people because as an unconnected individual you have no particular value.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But... Google is a monopoly

      "If you want to search the internet, you have to use Google (more or less)"

      LESS

      Pointlessly untrue nonsense statement.

      I do find their results best, that is true, but you can elsewhere.

      Personally I'm prepared to make the trade.

    5. death&taxes

      Re: But... Google is a monopoly

      "If you want to search the internet, you have to use Google"

      Utter, complete and ignorant tosh.

      Duck Duck Go ain't too bad, but if you really want google results without the google slurp then just use Startpage.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Apples for Pears is just once.. (Wood for Sheep?)

    But Google etc will keep your data forever.

    They can copy and copy it, resell it several times over, slice and dice it in new and interesting ways.

    Search and email may be worth '$10' to you, and you might feel that giving over your shoe size and movie preferences is worth it. But that information then goes from google to any number of organisations any number of times, and repeat, repeat, repeat.

    Whereas maybe YOU should have got your '$10' from each company each time you gave up something personal?

  14. Squander Two

    Yes, but....

    I broadly agree with Tim about what a trade is and what a market failure is, but it strikes me that there are a couple of problem areas with the Net's data-aggregators, where perhaps some regulation might be a good idea.

    Firstly, Gmail (and similar). I can choose whether or not to use Google's email service, but I can't choose whether my friends do. It would surely be a perfectly reasonable move for regulators to insist on some sort of opt-out, where I could provide my email address to Google and they would then be obliged not to collate the content of emails sent by me to their users.

    Secondly, constant changes to the Ts & Cs. I am perfectly OK with saying to Facebook's users, "Read the Ts & Cs when you sign up. If you don't read them, that's your look-out." But what Facebook are doing is taking users who have agreed to one lot of privacy rules and then applying a different set of rules to them, assuming that's fine as long as they send them an email telling them about the change. It is simply not reasonable to expect people to spend their days poring over changes in rules -- we want people to have some time for other activities. So how about an imposed legal maximum on the number of changes Facebook (or whoever) may make -- twice a year, say? It is also not reasonable to move privacy rules from more private to less private without the express permission of users -- if I ticked a box and clicked a button to tell Facebook they're not allowed to use my photos for purpose A, they should not be allowed to assume they can use them for purpose B without again getting me to tick a box and click a button. Allowing the likes of Facebook to change the terms of a deal after it has been made is surely a market failure.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Yes, but....

      "Allowing the likes of Facebook to change the terms of a deal after it has been made is surely a market failure."

      Why? The original agreement didn't oblige you to take the service in perpetuity, nor Facebook to provide the service on the same basis in perpetuity. Credit card and insurance companies (as but two examples) routinely change their T&C, and send me a dull leaflet by donkey post. If I want I can read the leaflet (few do), and if I don't like the changes I can take my business elsewhere, and the same applies for tech company notifying users that the T&C have changed.

      There's great enthusiasm amongst regulators to identify and "fix" market failures. In reality the situation is usually that the market is working just fine, but the regulators (or their political masters) don't like the market outcome. A classic case is fuel poverty and cold homes. That's the market working just dandy, in that demand is the desire for a good backed by the ability to pay, and price elasticity of demand is where demand decreases in some ratio as price increases. So pensioners living in cold homes is the energy market working as it should, and the problem that needs fixing is a failed welfare state. But its always easier to scream "market failure", blame the wicked capitalists, and come up with some poorly designed cludge to address the symptom.

      1. Squander Two

        Re: Yes, but....

        > Credit card and insurance companies (as but two examples) routinely change their T&C, and send me a dull leaflet by donkey post.

        I was thinking of those letters when I wrote my comment. Banks very rarely change customers' Ts & Cs more than twice a year.

        > If I want I can read the leaflet (few do)

        See, this is the thing. If people have to read the occasional letter and choose not to, it's reasonable to tell them it's their own stupid fault. If they're facing a constant stream of contract changes (Facebook appear to have slowed down of late, but it was every couple of weeks at one point), then we either accept that they're not going to read it all or we watch the economy grind to a halt as people do nothing but plough their way through user agreements.

        We could also add that Facebook prefer to change their Ts & Cs without telling their users. Could we at least agree that that's not on? If a bank does that, the penalties are huge.

        1. Dan Paul

          Re: Yes, but....

          Banks and Credit card companies regularly change their T&C's without telling you by inserting a line in all their contracts stating "We reserve the right to change blah, blah, blah" which legally covers any changes.

          They cannot do that to your mortgage (thats a binding contract) but they can do it to your account and credit cards.

      2. Havin_it
        Gimp

        @Ledswinger Re: Yes, but....

        >[...] and the same applies for tech company notifying users that the T&C have changed.

        Except they cap it off with: Pray we do not alter them further.

    2. Dharma

      Re: Yes, but....

      The email belongs to the recipient, not the sender -- and I want to be able to search on the email I receive.

      1. Squander Two

        Re: Yes, but....

        > I want to be able to search on the email I receive.

        If that were all Google used the content for, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

        People are always saying "Your privacy and rights are inconvenient to Google's business plan" without it ever occurring to them that in that case Google might need to change their business plan. No-one would dream of extending the same logic to, say, HSBC.

  15. Bob Wheeler
    Coat

    virtually no cost

    "but I just can't let someone call billions of dollars in cold hard cash “virtually no cost”."

    I have no probem if someone gave a few billions in cold hard cash, at virtually no cost to them :)

  16. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Tim Worstal

      Re: Ideological note

      Of course.

      It's possible (well, certain perhaps) that we will disagree about *when* but the basic idea, sure.

  17. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Flaw

    The argument is flawed.

    Partly because Google have got themselves into the desirable position that they are essential to most of the public. SO the option to not using them is equivalent to not using the water supply coming to you home. Or indeed not having broadband. ( Either VM or BT ). (If people think Twitbook is equally indispensable that's their choice ).

    And the cost of Google's services is not merely masked, but it's actually unlimited. It's not like offering my apples for their pears. It's the equivalent of giving them the key to my apple store.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Flaw

      "The argument is flawed."

      No, your argument is though. Google is not essential. Maybe some people can't comprehend a world pre-Google, but I can assure everybody that the world still turned, important things like "fire" and "water" still worked, famine was neither more nor less common, and people happily went to their graves without knowing or caring about a US advertising placement company with a silly name.

      There were adequate search engines before Google, there are adequate alternatives now, and there will be new ones when Google have made themselves obsolete. Google declare their T&Cs, if people don't care enough to read them then that's no different to what most people do when they sign credit card or mobile phone agreements - they choose not to read the small print.

      As far as I can see all of this concern arises because most people don't read tech company T&C. But this is called "free will". Is it the responsibility of any supplier to tattoo the contract or T&C on the back of each customer's hand? Or is it something that as responsible adults, customers have to accept that they either read the T&C and act accordingly, or they take the service and endure whatever conditions the supplier chooses?

      1. Jes.e

        Re: Flaw

        "There were adequate search engines before Google, there are adequate alternatives now, and there will be new ones when Google have made themselves obsolete."

        There were adequate search engines before Google?

        No. No there were not.

        Altavista was the best option at the time, and it and it's breathern all had the singular problem of only being able to search on a single word.

        Searching on two words however, returned web pages that inexplicably had NEITHER word from my search.

        Basically useless.

        Google not only returned pages with my keywords in them, but they returned pages *relivant* to what I was searching for.

        And the free GMAIL service, using its information about what everyone was sending and receiving by scanning inside the messages managed to eliminate a problem that Bill Gates famously claimed that Microsoft would solve. Email spam...

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: Flaw

          Note, I said "they are essential to most of the public.

          Not all. Not essential to survival either.

          But most of the general public will rely on Google to find what they want to buy, frequently, as noted in El Reg instead of entering web URLs directly, their bus route, job search, homework, and so on.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Google is not essential

        I call BS on that. Try blocking google (I mean actually block all of it, every IP they own) and then try to use the rest of the internet as normal and let us know how you get on...

        I've tried it and can tell you what will happen. The web stops working, not bits of it but pretty much all of it. Want to know how to get to that place you just found on bing - tough, you have to use google maps to see that. Want to watch that instruction video - tough, it's hosted on youtube. You want to use that perfectly normal looking website with the nice user interface - you can't, the widget behind all the functionality is hosted by google... and so it goes.

        As a consumer I can't choose not to use them.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Flaw

      "Partly because Google have got themselves into the desirable position that they are essential to most of the public. SO the option to not using them is equivalent to not using the water supply coming to you home."

      Ask your doctor what happens if you have no water supply at home.

      Now ask your doctor what happens if you have to change search engine.

  18. Omgwtfbbqtime
    Big Brother

    I've said it before...

    If you're not paying for it, you're not the customer, you're the product.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Up to a point...

    It all depends on whether both parties are aware of the value of the commodity.

    Party "A" may consider what they have to be next to worthless, but if Party "B" realises it's true value and gives you next to nothing in return, well...

    I'd suggest in this case that it's a bit like the Conquistadors giving beads to the natives in return for furs, gold etc. And at some point the sheep will wake up to the value of what they are so blithley giving away and demand much more in return.

  20. MonkeyScrabble

    The big problem is

    At the moment this information may be "relatively" worthless.

    When google started your data was probably worth a couple of pence.

    Now it's worth 10 to 140 dollars or whatever.

    How much will it be worth tomorrow and not just in monetary terms.

    I read an article somewhere once about reasons we need to fear google and about the only point I took away from it as plausible is this.

    At the moment google are riding high on the wave. Lords of all they survey and the data is being used "relatively" benignly.

    What if that changes and google is no long cock-of-the-hoop.

    As their popularity\relevance wanes, what would they do with your information then?

    For me that's the big question.

    When you're making money it's easier to appear as the big friendly corp while quietly tearing the arse out people in the background.

    However when that same corp has it's back against the wall and is staring a MySpace decline in the face, they will not even pretend to be friendly in any way.

    Will they take the hoard of data they have collected and abuse it in any way they can to try and prop up a failing business?

    Or worse?

    To add something else to that that popped into my head.

    What happens to the data when they decide they're too big and powerful to be governed by the law or any particular government?

    1. Zog_but_not_the_first

      Re: The big problem is

      Quite. Our old friends, mission creep and unintended consequences.

      For example, the DVLA (the Government-run vehicle licensing authority in the UK) collects data on who owns what vehicles, where they live etc. Once upon a time they shared this information with the police for use in criminal investigations, and no-one has a problem with that (except the crims, of course).

      Then they decided that their "business plan" allowed them to sell this information for (I think) £75 a pop to anyone prepared to pay. One outcome was the rise of cowboy parking companies who would use a licence plate to look up the owners address so they could send an invoice (usually designed to look like a parking fine) to the vehicle owner for "illegal parking".

      If you want a darker example, how about the benign practice of asking for religious affiliation on census forms in the early 20C which came in handy when the Nazi party took control of the data.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Dan Paul

        Re: The big problem is @Zog but not the first

        The same things can be said of any form of "registration".

        The "Nazi's" (insert the name of any government here) used gun registration to disarm it's own people because they wanted to prevent any form of armed insurrection.

  21. Alistair
    Coat

    Interesting perspectives.

    I'll agree the trade of "Information" for "services" is not a market failure.

    What I will note is about to be, or will in the future be, a market failure, is the hypervaluation of these data, resulting in ridiculous market caps on these companies. Especially when there are now *so many* organizations with similar or nearly identical data being gathered.

    I am *in* the business. I know what is being gathered, I know how it *is* being used, and I know what is planned for the future of this data. What scares the pants off me in this case is what *CAN* be done with the data - and there are paths that ethical persons do not wish to pursue with this data. However -- governments, times, morals and ethics do change. I really don't want to be around when someone decides that looking at cute kitten pictures is somehow morally reprehensible, and subject to legal action.

  22. mahasamatman
    Windows

    Coding Prowess

    I've met Jaron Lanier.

    Tim's assumption that his coding expertise exceeds his economic understanding is very, very wrong.

    Tramp icon for obvious reasons.

    1. Tim Worstal

      Re: Coding Prowess

      So that's why he teaches about the ethics of coding is it, rather than even teaching coding?

  23. conan

    All markets fail

    Markets tend towards monopolies, which is why every developed country has a monopolies commission (at least as far as I know). A very old market strategy is to undercut your competitors until they go out of business, and then exploit them once you've got a monopoly. These services make it very difficult for someone to come along and offer a competing service, because theirs is free - who's gonna pay for access to a better search engine, even if one did exist?

    Google should have been broken up at the 25% search engine traffic mark in the UK, but our monopolies commission is too uninformed to decide how best to do that. So it's a voluntary transaction, sure, but the average person doesn't know of an alternative service that doesn't collect their data. Don't even get me started on ISPs.

  24. Tikimon
    FAIL

    Straight Purchase is still a valid business model!

    This is utter BS. For most of my life I have purchased goods and services, which were then mine. The company was paid in cash, the trade was made. Nobody will convince me that "spy on your every move and tell whomever we want about it but don't charge Cash" is a better way to pay for services or goods. That's an asinine business model and frankly insulting to customers.

    Claims that we're FINE with the data rape are BS as well. I and many many others refuse to use Facebook at all on privacy and creepiness grounds. I know plenty of Google refuseniks as well. Millions of gullible users do not represent the whole population.

    1. Squander Two

      Re: Straight Purchase is still a valid business model!

      Did somebody say they do represent the whole population?

  25. earl grey
    Trollface

    "it's not all about the money"

    No, it's really all about the (data) base.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The transaction is not symmetrical ...

    ... if it's viewed as a transaction.

    Namely: Google sells me email services, for which I pay with my personal data. That's the trade.

    If I put on my Efficient Marketeer Hat (I won't but I'm pretty sure Mr. Worstall wears it all the time): this market is informationally incomplete. Google has an informationally complete view of my personal data's price (not value because value and price are two completely different things). I do not have this view, nor do I have access to it, because I do not know on which other markets Google trades my personal data, nor do I have access to these markets. Therefore I cannot possibly come up with a valuation model for this trade.

    Because of this competitive advantage, Google can extract a profit from the other markets on which it trades my personal information. I can't extract a profit from using Gmail, and I can't even determine what the correct price for my personal data might be.

    So it's an assymetrical (skewed) market: there is only one Bid: Google, but I can't even come up with an Ask. I'm trading blindly.

    1. Tim Worstal

      Re: The transaction is not symmetrical ...

      Yes, but your knowledge of teh value of your data *to you* is informationally complete, sa is your knowledge of the value of Google's services *to you*. Google also doesn't know what the value of their services are to you, do they?

      In fact no seller does. That's why they try things like market segmentation and so on. Because they know there's a consumer surplus out there and they want that cash. But they're not able to identify who is getting a big fat consumer curplus and thus charge them for it.

      Efficient and or free markets do not depend upon compete information. Because in just about no market is there that comlete information.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The transaction is not symmetrical ...

        [ ... ] your knowledge of the value of your data *to you* is informationally complete [ ... ]

        it is not, nor can it be:

        - I can't/don't trade my personal data with myself

        - There is no other market where I could list my personal data for sale, and expect a bid, unless I decide to put it up for sale on EBay, which would be a highly irrational thing to do

        So, there is no known market *to me* for my personal data. Therefore, I can't come up with a valuation model. Or infer a price based on bids.

        On the other hand, Google knows the value of their services to me: it's zero, because I can switch to another free email provider with zero transaction costs.

        > Efficient and or free markets do not depend upon compete information.

        In the EMH - all three variants thereof, markets depend on complete information, because the EMH postulates informational completeness.

        1. Message From A Self-Destructing Turnip

          Re: The transaction is not symmetrical ...

          The transaction is also only the down payment. The consumer is paid by the data collector, the data colletor is paid by the marketing drones, the marketing drones are paid by...

        2. Tim Worstal

          Re: The transaction is not symmetrical ...

          Umm, please, try reading an article, by me, on this site, about the emh. This week or last, "worstall" in the search box will get you to it.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The transaction is not symmetrical ...

            Your article, by you, on this site, about EMH, is interesting, but has nothing to do with what Economists and Finance Types refer to when they say "EMH", for the reasons I have already explained.

            Please visit the relevant Economics literature about EMH. Eugene Fama's "Efficient Capital Markets" article from 1970:

            http://efinance.org.cn/cn/fm/Efficient%20Capital%20Markets%20A%20Review%20of%20Theory%20and%20Empirical%20Work.pdf

            And a college-level introductory article from UCal Berkeley Econ Department:

            http://eml.berkeley.edu/~craine/EconH195/Fall_14/webpage/Malkiel_Efficient%20Mkts.pdf

            [ Warning: PDF ]

            I look forward to reading professional literature articles on the "Fama-Worstal Model for Efficient Markets", where informational completeness is neither postulated, nor required. Until then, let's stick to just Fama.

            1. Squander Two

              Re: The transaction is not symmetrical ...

              > Your article, by you, on this site, about EMH, is interesting, but has nothing to do with what Economists and Finance Types refer to when they say "EMH", for the reasons I have already explained.

              I work in investment banking, so have been surrounded by finance types for years. And, whilst I have seen many a commenter on these Interwebs insist that finance types all firmly believe that markets are always informationally complete, I have never once met an actual finance type who would respond to that claim with anything other than scoffing derision.

              It's very simple: if it were true, arbitrage would not exist. And it does.

              > Please visit the relevant Economics literature about EMH. Eugene Fama's "Efficient Capital Markets" article from 1970

              I think maybe you need to work on your reading comprehension a bit. That paper starts with:

              In general terms, the ideal is ...

              The ideal.

              Then it says:

              The definitional statement that in an efficient market prices "fully reflect" available information ...

              Available information.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: The transaction is not symmetrical ...

                > I work in investment banking

                So did I, for twelve years. I wrote pricing models for a living, mainly stuff much more complex than Black-Scholes. I don't need your schooling.

                > I have never once met an actual finance type who would respond to that claim with anything other than scoffing derision.

                I agree with this 100%. You should let Worstal know, because he's the Efficient Marketeer here, not I.

        3. Squander Two

          Re: The transaction is not symmetrical ...

          > There is no other market where I could list my personal data for sale, and expect a bid

          Facebook, Google, Tesco Clubcard, Nectar Points, Avios, Boots Advantage Card, Co-op dividend card, Work.shop.play, Windows user feedback program....

          Years ago, I used to have a deal with a market research firm where they gave me a barcode scanner, I scanned all my grocery shopping, and they paid me a tenner a month.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The transaction is not symmetrical ...

            > Facebook, Google, Tesco Clubcard, Nectar Points,

            And how exactly does this work in real life? Is Facebook going to quote me a price for my personal data?

            > Years ago, I used to have a deal with a market research firm where they gave me a barcode scanner,

            Good for you, atta boy! Have a cookie.

            1. Squander Two

              Re: The transaction is not symmetrical ...

              > I agree with this 100%. You should let Worstal know, because he's the Efficient Marketeer here, not I.

              Then you're just talking in circles.

              ST: I just know Tim believes efficient markets require complete information.

              Tim: No I don't.

              ST: Well, you say that, but you're not talking about real efficient markets that real economists believe in. Everyone who works in finance or economics believes efficient markets require complete information.

              Me: No they don't.

              ST: I agree. But why are you arguing with me? It was Tim who claimed efficient markets require complete information.

              > And how exactly does this work in real life? Is Facebook going to quote me a price for my personal data?

              Er, yes: they offer you a service. That's the price. At Christmas, do you open all your presents and say "What, no cash? Does everyone hate me?"

              But why pick on just Facebook from that list? Tesco and Boots give you vouchers -- in Tesco's case, they're nearly as good as cash. The Co-op give you actual cash. Avios give you holidays. Tesco vouchers can be used to buy ferry and Chunnel crossings, which amounts to about a hundred quid off the price of my family's annual holiday. So the answer to your question is a literal yes: when we fill up with petrol, we do so at Tesco garages, because they, in return for knowing how much petrol we use, offer us most of the cost of a crossing to France, and other petrol stations don't. They make a bid and we accept it. Which you insist is impossible.

              > Good for you, atta boy! Have a cookie.

              Look, it was you who claimed that there is no market for personal data and no available mechanism for selling it. The only purpose of your rather laboured sarcasm here is to distract attention from my having just demonstrated that to be unequivocally wrong.

              > I don't need your schooling.

              In finance, probably not. In reading comprehension, you sure need someone's.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: The transaction is not symmetrical ...

                Very interesting post.

                It would appear that you are talking to yourself, debating statements you attribute to me, but were in fact invented by you. Please feel free to continue on your own. I'm done here.

                1. Squander Two

                  Re: The transaction is not symmetrical ...

                  [sigh] OK, here we go.

                  > I just know Tim believes efficient markets require complete information.

                  was a paraphrase of

                  > If I put on my Efficient Marketeer Hat (I won't but I'm pretty sure Mr. Worstall wears it all the time): this market is informationally incomplete ... In the EMH - all three variants thereof, markets depend on complete information, because the EMH postulates informational completeness.

                  And

                  > you're not talking about real efficient markets that real economists believe in. Everyone who works in finance or economics believes efficient markets require complete information.

                  was a paraphrase of

                  > Your article, by you, on this site, about EMH, is interesting, but has nothing to do with what Economists and Finance Types refer to when they say "EMH", for the reasons I have already explained. Please visit the relevant Economics literature about EMH.

                  Yeah, I imagined it all.

                  You do get how these written arguments work, yeah? That the writing's still there, and we can all read it? Claiming "I never said that!" may work down the pub, but not here.

  27. Dharma

    Faustian bargain

    I figure I sold my soul to the devil (Google). Everyone else is stealing my data from me. (I deleted my Facebook account over a year ago.)

  28. Stevie

    Bah!

    " Lanier argued that by convincing users to give away valuable information about themselves in exchange for “free” services, firms such as Google and Facebook have accumulated colossal amounts of data ... "

    And, as these firms are discovering even as I type, colossal amounts of data are not information. I love to use otherwise idle time at my computer allowing Google to gather more data on me as I browse myriad disconnected web sites of no interest to me in reality. I would pay real money to watch the faces of the poor git tasked with trying to make information out of all that data.

    I mean, look how good they are at presenting me with targeted search results.

    Exercise for the reader: Search Google for "White Slave" and glory in the flood of hits purporting to give one the lowest prices on White Slaves pasted down the right hand column of the Google results page.

    "Information Age". Pft!

  29. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

    Voluntary?

    In my mind the problem is that the "transaction" is not voluntary. Assume I value my privacy more than what Google's services are worth to me. So I decide to never use GMail and to stick to DuckDuckGo or something else for searches. However, I believe Google are still perfectly capable of building a rather detailed profile of me because every time I send an email to someone who uses GMail - and that includes a lot of companies and other organizations today, hell, even my employer - information about me gets into Google's vaults. Every website I visit that uses some of Google services - Analytics and such - contributes, too. So I decide that I might as well use Google search since it makes so little difference

    The actual price of avoiding Google's data slurping is becoming a virtual digital recluse, pissing off one's friends, acquaintances, business associates, customers, etc. by asking whether they use GMail or whether their web side uses Google Analytics and saying you will never communicate unless they switch... Hmm... Basically, not an option.

    "One cannot live in society and be free from society."[*] Essentially, we are all forced to give our data to Google unless we really go to a fringe. This does not make it a "voluntary transaction". The price of non-compliance is so high that it looks more like blackmail of the "wouldn't it be a shame if something happened to your communications and professional and social connections?" kind.

    [*] The quote is from one V.I.Lenin - an expert on freedom... eh, I meant, on coercion. Treated as a neutral observation the statement rings true. Remembering that it served to justify all sorts of ugly things is worthwhile.

  30. Zog_but_not_the_first

    Reframing the technology

    There's a really helpful chap in town. If you're lost, he gives excellent directions. If you have a question, he's usually got an answer for you. Top man. The problem is there are always half a dozen characters in the background photographing you and taking notes. If you catch their eye, them smile politely and carry on.

    After a while you realise that they're following and recording your family and friends too.

    How do you feel?

  31. Walmo
    FAIL

    Imperfect information in a 'mutually beneficial' deal

    Reading this article brought to mind the 'mutually beneficial' transaction the American Indians did with European settlers involving buttons and what us now Manhattan. Do you suppose the American Indians thought they got a good deal at the time. Do you think they might have regretted it once the settlers wouldn't allow them on this land and, as the colony expanded, on their own land. Were they around now, do you think they might think they didn't really understand the value and implications of what they were selling?

    1. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

      Re: Imperfect information in a 'mutually beneficial' deal

      This is a staple of any economics manual when compound interest is discussed. Manhattan was bought for what was worth ~$24 in 1626. Assume you sold it and invested for 389 years at 5% annual interest on average (that's less than the estimated performance of stock markets since then). You'd be just shy of 126 billion dollars today. This may be twice the total real estate value of Manhattan today or more (I think I saw an estimate of $47 billion a few years ago - too lazy to check). Still looks a bad deal?

      Maybe Tim will give a better estimate over a weekend or on a Wednesday?

      P.S. Given that the Indian tribe that closed that deal didn't "own" Manhattan nor was even settled on it, they got themselves a really great deal...

  32. rjohnsontn
    Happy

    Valuation $10/Yr

    Did you report this on your tax returns?

    For the record, I am disputing your percieved valuation of economic gain as NULL so there is no tax incidence whatsoever.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Maybe, just maybe, the low value many people place on their personal data in a commercial context is actually correct, and Google, Facebook, et al have been paying way over the odds for it, but have so far managed to profit by convincing _their_ customers that this data has a much higher value.

    The main risk to the individual is the mis-application of this collected data by other organisations, e.g. through the data leaking or it being appropriated, and this is one area where legal requirements (and penalties) could be strengthened.

  34. Handle This
    Holmes

    The "Hippie Factor"

    Tim, I often read your articles because they have a point of view - a rather rare things in some parts - and because I hope to find some interesting kernel of knowledge to change my perspective of things. I hardly ever do, mostly I believe because we share very little in the way of basic philosophies, but I have to say that this comment (it doesn't rise to an "article") is pretty spot on.

    I don't pretend to be immersed in current economic thought (after all, that's why I read you), but even I recognize Smith and Ricardo and I have to agree that the comments often attributed to those responsible for modern analysis in the tech area seem to be more than willing to walk away from the fundamental elements defined by these giants. Just as in incomplete equation carries little to no valuable information, the failure to acknowledge all parts of the give/receive and cost/benefit relationships renders any conclusion suspect and weak. I think we are simply living in an era (and when have we not?) where broad, sweeping, unsupported statements are more likely to bring attention than truthful, compete and thoughtfully expressed analysis. Most of all, economics is (if not a science) at least a manifestation of real-world actions and consequences.

    However you express it, the fact is that these exchanges are going on all the time, and can therefore be explained, albeit through the specific prism of the observer. That the world does not share the observer's prejudices is now a sin, and can only be called a failure by the powers-that-would-be. Fox News, anyone?

  35. goldcd

    It's all about efficiency

    I buy stuff I see advertised - we all do.

    I also see many adverts for many products I have absolutely no interest in buying.

    These adverts cost the seller money, which was wasted when I didn't buy, and that cost is carried by people who did see the advert and did buy the product (and annoyed the arse off me, if I didn't block it).

    It's not an internet thing - think of all those supermarket adverts you sat through, for the supermarket you've not get foot in ever, nor have any intention of ever doing so (I am not going to Tesco, Somerfield, Asda - I don't even have one in my town). I am not buying perfume as a Christmas gift, and I don't want a cheap-ass scented candle to cover the smell of my filth etc.

    In an ideal world every advert I see would be something I want to buy, and if I might want to buy anything, I wouldn't see an advert. ANYTHING that takes me from where we are now towards this 'goal' saves waste, could potentially benefit me, the seller and whoever's sitting in the middle skimming off a percentage.

    To get towards this paradigm of market efficiency, data has to be shared. What people are selling, and what I might want to buy. Google and their ilk gives this to me for FREE, without any commitment on my side AND I get a fancy mobile OS, browser, email, mapping etc etc etc.

    It's not that I don't value my information, it's that I'm enabled to trade it for services that provide me with greater value.

    Only time I ever got slightly freaked out with analytics, was when I bought a diamond for an engagement ring. It's clearly a smaller, higher value market, so I spent a month with gem references hiding in the corners of pretty much every web-page I visited.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Do not feed the Trolls

    Starve them of the oxygen of publicity they crave by ignoring their nonsense.

  37. Rallicat

    I think part of the issue, is that whilst it's absolutely true that many people might see it as a fair exchange to hand over personal data in exchange for the services they receive 'for free', the issue is that they have no choice. Do I have an alternative where I can pay to use certain services, and /not/ have to hand over my personal data? No.

    Of course, one could argue I'm free to choose to not use those services at all, but this is something of a hobsons choice - if I want the services, I have no say in the way I acquire access to them. In a working market, competition would produce more, real choice.

    A secondary but equally important issue is that my data remains data about me even after I have exchanged it. It's not a sale (apples for pears) it's a lease - an ongoing arrangement to exchange data for services. If I were a landlord and a tenant subletted my property without telling me, I might be rather annoyed given said subtenant had not been vetted or approved by me. By the same token, If I hand over my data to -say- Google, I don't necessarily agree to that data then being either sold to other companies, or forcibly accessed by governments and other related agencies.

    Between the free market capitalist and the hippy, there's a nice middle ground, and in that space many people are indeed happy to hand over their data, so long as they still have some kind of a say, and as long as basic controls are in place.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Markets and All The Information

    So, this article is a bit of nonsense, isn't it?

    The point of markets working well is that it's based upon all the relevant knowledge being factored in. This is not the case here. Users (of Google, Facebook, iPhones, the Internet in general) do not have access to how their data is being used, so they are ignorant of its value.

    In fact, we have to be more careful than that - by 'knowledge' I mean 'access to the facts and understanding of the facts and their implications'. In other words, saying that users are warned that data is collected isn't enough if they don't understand what that really means.

    Users give their personal data away because they don't realise how it can be used and how it is being used. When they do get concerned, it is waived away as being 'anonymised' (which we know is basically meaningless), and they remain ignorant of how completely different aspects of their behaviour can be linked together to produce a complete, and identifiable, profile whenever it becomes useful.

    It's the equivalent of getting a child to swap "that grubby old piece of paper" (a £20 note) for "this lovely shiny shaped coin" (a 50 pence piece).

  39. Nick Pettefar

    Busuu

    I am trying to improve my German and so signed up for a Premium account with Busuu. Unfortunately I could not access their content; I discovered it was because I was using Ghostery on Firefox. I looked at what Ghostery was blocking and discovered that they were trying to send data from the Premium web page I was trying to access to, amongst others, Doubleclick, Criteo, Google, AdRoll, KissMetrics, Facebook, New Relics, Quantcast, Twitter and Saithru Horizon. This was not a free service. This company wants it both ways and I objected and received a refund. If it was a free service I wouldn't mind so much.

  40. Sarah Balfour

    @Tim Worstal

    If you were concerned about your diet/heart/weight, then you'd be having a fry-up, ***NOT*** toast. Eating a diet low in saturated fat INCREASES your risk of developing CVD. A duet high in grains, and low in saturated fat, also increases your risk of developing diabetes. Cholesterol **DOES** ***NOT*** cause heard disease, and a diet high in the foods the quacks claim will "lower your cholesterol" will increase your CVD/CHD risk - why…? Simply because high overall cholesterol is, as a general rule, a Very Good Thing, as it's HDL cholesterol which is responsible for raising overall.

    Don't listen to the NHS/USDA, they contain more shit than a decade's worth of nappies.

    Listen to this dude - http://www.drmalcolmkendrick.org - he knows his shit, and I'd strongly recommend you read his book, 'The Great Cholesterol Con'. No affiliation, not plugging owt, honest! Kendrick was an NHS GP, but was kicked out when he refused to routinely prescribe statins. There's ZERO independent evidence that statins do any good, but plenty that says they cause a great deal of harm - and can kill.

    I've always had a slight mistrust of the NHS and - after it caused my weight to balloon from 24 to 32 stone about 10 years ago (that's what happens when you eat a low-fat/high-carb diet, full of grains and starches (just say "No!", kids!). After telling 'em where they could shove it, I lost 24.5st (that's what eating a low-carb/high-fat palaeo diet does, kids!). If you want to know ***WHY*** this country has a weight problem, you need look no further than the 'eat poorly' plate, ruining the health of the nation with its fear of saturated fat, red meat, salt/sodium, and all manner of other healthy things. M

    Look at it this way, if all of human evolution was compressed into a single day, we've been eating what the NHS/USDA term 'healthy' for less than 2.5 minutes - how could it not FAIL to make us fat and sick…?! Our bodies haven't the first ***CLUE*** what to DO with it! Hippocrates stated, "All Disease Begins In The Gut", meaning it's what you eat that directly determines your state of health. High carb/low fat calorie-restricted diets don't work because you're continually causing the pancreas to produce insulin which causes hunger, so you binge and end up fatter than when you started. Eat a LCHF diet, and you'll not get hungry (or as hungry) because fat has zero impact on insulin, so you'll lose weight.

    1. Zog_but_not_the_first
      Happy

      Re: @Tim Worstal

      Slightly off topic, but I did smile at "more shit than a decade's worth of nappies"

  41. launcap Silver badge
    Megaphone

    Yes, yes, yes..

    .. but more important than all this economics flummery - what sort of kittens?

    Enquiring minds!

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nothing wrong with making a profit, refusing to pay tax on it however to support the economy from which the profit is derived smacks of a suicide wish ..........

  43. DrM

    It's just business!

    Yeah, and armed robbery of banks is just a business where the robber contributes his time, and gets value back as stolen money.

  44. Dan Paul

    Why worry about simple website? @ Tim Worstall

    If you get all paranoid over the data gleaned from your web browsing habits, just think a minute.

    You all have credit or debit cards.

    Do you honestly think that those companies do not sell you personal info to the highest bidder?

    Better think again.

    Location, purchases, balances, frequency, gender, etc are all sold to marketing companies. And I would expect there is even more info available for those who want to pay for it.

    Credit reporting agencies, banks, retailers, etc are already buying that info.

    Where do you think those pre-approved credit offers come from?

    What about your utilities? They sell your demographic info as well.

    How about drivers liscences? In New York State, they already sell your demographics and address to marketing companies. Same with email addresses and phone numbers.

    How about Government? Are they really above selling the info contained in your taxes?

    I don't think so.

    You have a whole lot more to be paranoid about than a simple website!

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