Monday, 16 September 2013

What Will You Surrender For 'Free' Services?

Can I say that I'm old, just because I remember the glory days of the Internet, where everything was free and pop-up banners hadn't yet been invented?

These days, news content is increasingly hidden behind paywalls, no matter what site you want to get involved in you have to register and disclose some private details, and worst of all your data is being shared left right and centre with '3rd parties'.

Case in point: LinkedIn ( I've always viewed LinkedIn with a vague bit of curiosity, like a 'Facebook for Work' sort of thing. I haven't personally seen any benefits in it, however, apart from sharing the odd joke with a professional contact who has added me.

The LinkedIn news feed just doesn't grab me, but it was a bit of a giggle to add more and more contacts I knew and then see how they connected me to pretty much anybody else I could think of.

Now, however, I'm decidedly unimpressed. I log in this time, and kudos to LinkedIn I'm warned pretty comprehensively that their privacy and user policies have been updated, and even given the option to read a watered-down summary of the changes in each instead of plowing through lengthy documents nobody has time for.

Good thing I did, because I discovered this little setting:

Whoa, what? No, you may NOT share my data with 3rd party applications. Furthermore, I'm a bit incensed that they'd automatically tick an option like that for me (I'd unticked it before the screencap). Although no doubt, some obscure clause in that very same lengthy policy no doubt gives them permission to do that.

Even spookier, however, was this part:

And yes, that one had also been ticked automatically for me. How thoughtful, LinkedIn - I'd really LOVE you to monitor all the sites I visit, just so that you can serve me with 'better' advertising (for the record I have NEVER and will NEVER click on an advertising link - there's this amazing thing called Google which is a lot more accurate).

But I've been thinking about this, you see. Clearly LinkedIn figures that in order to make more money out of me, it's only fair that they do more to extract the value they can from the only thing I'm 'giving' them: my personal data. If that means being able to sell that on to 3rd parties I have no idea of, and to marginally increase the chances that I'll actually eventually one day click on one of their adverts for them to earn some revenue, then hey ... it's only fair game because I'm getting all of the wonderful LinkedIn giggles for free. Right?

Erm, not really. I have an objection, and it's simply this: the benefits that LinkedIn are offering me aren't increasing. Yes, that may be my fault for not trying to extract the maximum value I possibly could from it - personally I chuckle at people who try so desperately to gain references on their LinkedIn profiles for the whole world to see - but just maybe that should be my prerogative. I'm using LinkedIn like I use any website - as I feel like it.

Why should LinkedIn decide to 'charge' me more for the use of its free services by extracting more value from me, when I'm not necessarily using its services more? Yes, I can de-select some of the added options if I delve deep enough into the menus like I have, but for how long will that help? It's clear that LinkedIn will keep on thinking up great new ideas to extract value from me, and they'll go ahead and subscribe me to those new options automatically (bad boy, bad!).

So really, LinkedIn, you leave me with no option but this:
I'm not saying you should do the same with your account, if you have one. Personally this wasn't an easy decision because LinkedIn has been there for as long as I can remember, slowly accumulating connections. I just think it's the right decision for me, because I don't want to give ANY website carte blanche with my personal information, or permission to happily track me for advertising purposes (countless thousands already do without my permission of course, but hey - I'll stop the ones I at least know about).

In this instance, I think it's LinkedIn which lost out. My professional networks all still exist, but LinkedIn has lost the opportunity to send me millions of less-precisely targeted adverts. Too bad, guys. Thanks for the service I got at least - it was interesting.

This isn't just about LinkedIn either. Facebook is next to go again - I've deleted my account once before, but it's just useful because I'm currently addicted to two Facebook games and I use it to authenticate for commenting on some third-party websites. The pattern here is simple: the more invasive the website tries to be, and the more integral to my life, the more I'm going to be sceptical of it and reject it more completely if I reach a tipping point.

That's probably a warning to any web developer, and also a plea. Yes, you've got great ideas and services, and no I don't expect you to give them to me for free. But before you decide to re-purpose anything I've given you about myself, first justify your case with me and try convince me that it's right to help you. Treat me like an individual, and I'll treat you like a partner.

And now, in other news...


  1. "The Matrix had it wrong. You’re not the battery power in a global, human-enslaving AI, you are slightly more valuable. You are part of the switching circuitry."

    And then further in the same chapter:

    "A click is a click, a pageview is a pageview [they] don't care how they get it" (Trust Me, I'm Lying, Confessions of a Media Manipulator)

    As long as you're vigilant, and you are. You're still a step ahead...barely.

    1. Lol, thanks for that Matt. It's funny how one doesn't value privacy until one loses it.