Online Companies: Between Users and Customers

The internet is growing and widen its coverage to embrace more people. As it grows, online companies are also growing fast, expecting to make money from internet users.

Online companies compete with one another to give the best service they can while making it cheap (free) as possible. Google, Yahoo!, Facebook and YouTube are among the most visited and populated online online company websites where users exchange data, comments and information.

As a free service, it does not cost anything for people to use. However, these people that wants to use their service "pay" in different currency, namely their personal data. This personal data is valuable for online companies because they can convert it to revenue; enables them, and their commercial partners to target advertisements and other marketing proposition to these free users.

As a free service, Google, Yahoo!, Facebook and other online companies provide an end user license agreement (UELA) to people when they first open an account. And this UELA is subjected to be agreed by people before using their services.

People may realize this UELA, but buried deep inside the legal clause usually says that these online companies may collect, store and use registration data and other information that are subject to the Privacy Policy that people agreed to when they applied for an account.

There's nothing unusual about Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, or any other online companies. The "agreements" required online companies are roughly the same, in the sense that they are all pathologically asymmetrical. They require people to accept all kinds of conditions imposed by them, while explicitly exempting them from any obligations whatsoever.

Online companies rarely provide human customer support for people. That's because ordinary people are not "customers", they are users. And for most websites that provide services, as well as social media, if the service is free, then its users are their product's tool.

Why do these companies not provide telephone support lines with human beings at the other end? The answer is because call centers cost money and are only necessary if a company is compelled, by law or by competitive pressure, to support its customers. Users are not customers. Its customers are advertisers who want to exploit its network and what it knows about its users. And for these advertisers, there's a support line for them, staffed by a real human being.

If ordinary users want to have a helpline support, some online companies suggest that they should pay for membership or upgrade their account.

Users and Customers

What makes customers very different than what makes users? Customers and users are not the same. These two words have close meanings but have a totally different understanding.

Users use product. For online companies, users are people that register, login, click the buttons and move around the service. They are the people who decide if they love it, hate it, or lie somewhere in between.

On the other hand, customers for online companies are people who buy the product. They find it. Evaluate it. Decide to purchase it or advertise in it, and ultimately pay for it. No customers means no business so they matter a lot.

Users may be the customers. For example, if they do a purchase or pay for a service.

Customers are people who give money. In marketing, the real customer is the client. Users are referred to as the "target" the marketer is trying to deliver to their client. Users are people who may, or may not, give money. Just because online companies has lots of users does not mean it will translate to lots of customers.

Customers are lifeline of any business. And for that, online companies gather users' information through direct mode or indirect mode.

Privacy Concerns

When talking about the internet, the network that connects people in a network to share, privacy is always a concern. Most tech and online companies that own user data said that they kept their data for themselves. But on the internet, almost nothing is totally private since almost anything can be shared, tracked, observed, taken, and edited.

In today's modern world, millions of individuals are subject to privacy threats. Companies are hired to not only watch what individuals visit online, but to infiltrate the information and send advertising based on one's browsing history. People can set up accounts on Facebook as well as enter bank and credit card information to various websites.

Privacy measures are provided on several online companies and social networking sites to try to provide their users with protection for their personal information.

Data and information is valuable when owned. This also makes the government make their move to approach tech giant companies for sharing their data. Tech giants keep track of all interactions used on their sites and save them for later use. Issues include cyberstalking, location disclosure, social profiling, third party personal information disclosure, and government information collection without the need for a search warrant. (read: Tech Companies and NSA's PRISM Request for Information).

These tech companies have no choice but to hand over the information when the NSA came calling. These companies were legally required to share the data under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).