For Sale: You

I’m beginning to equate free with disappointment, at least when it comes to online services such as Facebook and Gmail. Twitter too but, I’ll leave that for another day.

I’ve been logging into Facebook each day for four years. And yet I couldn’t explain their various levels of privacy to anyone. Just when I think I’ve set them where I want, Facebook decides to make wholesale changes in the name of what’s best for their users.

But change after mind-numbing change, we know better.

Maybe Facebook doesn’t intentionally try to confuse their users, but it certainly doesn’t hurt them when we sprinkle bits and pieces of our life around the Facebook forest, making it easier for advertisers to track our every movement.  Seriously, I look at the privacy setting screen and have no clue what I’m looking at. Even the wording used to describe settings is slippery.

Parts of my profile that were set to private by default are suddenly made public, and I’m forced to lock it down again.  It’s a never-ending game of Whack a Mole, and that’s par for the course with Facebook.

No other service I use changes more than Facebook. I used to have a feel for what details I made public and those I kept private. But Zuckerberg and his crew are wearing me down, and maybe that’s their goal. Bonk us over the head enough and we’ll succumb to making everything public.

Facebook is a light diversion, but I rely on Gmail to get serious work done. Gmail used to work quite well. When I switched to it in 2004, Yahoo and Hotmail were a mess. Gmail came along and gave us a clean, simple and fast email service. And, for the most part, it worked well for the next five years.

But for whatever reason, Google has been working overtime to make Gmail as unusable as Hotmail and Yahoo.  The latest update made it nearly unusable until someone explained how I could revert back to the old Gmail.

Google flipped the switch and immediately text scrolled off the screen, fonts grew, and Google decided maybe I’d like to CHAT while doing email. I’m left to wonder if anyone at Google actually tried to read an email using the new layout without.

I’ve switched back to the old look, but for how long? Each time I login I’m greeted with a little black ribbon begging me to switch to the “new look”. I don’t recall asking for a new look, and I can’t imagine these changes were made with the interest of the users in mind.

You’ve no doubt heard the old poker adage, attributed to Warren Buffet, “If you sit in on a poker game and don’t see a sucker, get up. You’re the sucker.”

Well, along those same lines I’d like to add: “If you’re using a free service and can’t figure out what product the company is selling, it’s you.”

Yes, you.

You are a data gold mine and Facebook and Google know it, but they don’t want to blatantly come out and admit it. In less than four years, Facebook could create more accurate profile of me than my doctor or employer or my church.

I’m beginning to rethink what I’m giving up to use these free services. I wish I could pay for Facebook and Gmail, but only if I could be certain they would respect my privacy and stop making changes that either break the service or sell me out.

I’m tired of being the sucker.