bellcurveWhen you are the product being sold, and your actions and interactions are being analyzed for marketable patterns, what is your responsibility? Can you play a conscious role in your productization? Are you powerless or powerful?

Those of us who use any technology, including cell phones, GPS systems, social media, the internet, etc, are all generating tracks in the virtual sand of this electronic landscape. (Can I call it the “electronic sandscape”? Oh please can I?!)

The tracks we create can tell people about us. Our habits, our desires, our beliefs, our motivations, can all be gleaned by watching what we do with our technology. Every one of these devices creates tracks in the sand, and if you look at one person’s tracks you can learn a surprising amount about them. If you aggregate the activities of many people – look at all their tracks from above – you will see patterns emerge from their activities, and be able to make predictions about their future activities.

Who is Tracking You?

Like trackers in the Wild West, there are people out there who look at your tracks and can learn many things about you from the tracks you leave. People then pay the trackers for that information, which inspires the trackers to continue tracking and refining their data into an ever more detailed portrait of you.

If the tracker works for an emergency crew who is looking for us after we have gotten lost in a blizzard in the mountains, we are happy to be tracked.

On the other hand, if we are escaping from an axe-wielding maniac, being tracked can be … problematic.

So where does that leave us? Can people look at our tracks? Do we own our tracks? Do we have sole proprietorship over the knowledge of where we have been and what we have done? Can we opt out somehow? And… what can we do about it?

Now with more YOU!

The general public slowly is becoming more aware of how often their activities are being tracked, and how this tracking data is being used. The news media has sensationalist stories about Apple’s iPhone tracking your location (well how ELSE are they going to direct the call to your phone when you are moving around all the time?!?), people become irritated when Facebook gleans another fact from your profile and shows ads based on those facts, and your web browser watches what sites you visit and what Google searches you make, and tailors your experience to its perceptions of who “you” are.

So here’s a clue that you need to get immediately:

If the product or service is free, then YOU are what is being sold.

I’m not the first to point this out, nor will I be the last. Facebook exists solely to draw a detailed map of who you are, and then sell that data to people who want to advertise to you. They don’t care if your photos are good or bad. They don’t care if they happen to use your deceased friend’s photo in a recommendation for a product or a “Like”. (This has actually happened to me. More than once.)

In fact, if you respond to this use of your tracking data in any way – a rant, an unfriending, a vote against an ad – you are simply providing them with more data about you and who you are as a person.

It’s like the Monty Python sketch where the man pays to have an argument:

M: Oh look, this isn’t an argument.
A: Yes it is.
M: No it isn’t. It’s just contradiction.
A: No it isn’t.
M: It is!
A: It is not.
M: Look, you just contradicted me.
A: I did not.
M: Oh you did!!
A: No, no, no.
M: You did just then.
A: Nonsense!
M: Oh, this is futile!
A: No it isn’t.
M: I came here for a good argument.
A: No you didn’t; no, you came here for an argument.
M: An argument isn’t just contradiction.
A: It can be.
M: No it can’t. An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.
A: No it isn’t.
M: Yes it is! It’s not just contradiction.
A: Look, if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position.
M: Yes, but that’s not just saying ‘No it isn’t.’
A: Yes it is!
M: No it isn’t!

Simply participating – in any way – makes you valuable. Whether you are the customer paying to have an argument in the Python sketch, or a Facebook user who clicks “Like” on the “Stumptown Coffee” page, your action is necessary to create the transaction.

Participation with intent

What would happen if, instead of passively scrolling through Facebook “liking” posts, making quick comments, etc, you actually structured your participation with this network?

Some remarkable things happen when you take an active role… and the data set becomes more valuable… to both you and the advertisers…

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Product : YOU.