When you’re the product

This weekend’s Wall Street Journal had an interesting article about purported “social-change” website Change.org. If you’re unfamiliar with the site, you can visit and sign your name to a variety of online petitions, attempting to compel anyone from national governments to corporations to adopts or change their stance on a variety of issues.

While all that seems well and good, skeptics claim Change.org is simply some “social conscious” window dressing for a company that aims to gather and sell personal information. Beyond the questionable representation of its product, it’s a great business: Grab someone’s email address, all them rapidly tell you the causes they’re most passionate about, then package all that up and sell it to the highest bigger. Everyone from nonprofits, to political organizations, to consumer products companies are understandably clamoring for this data.

While it might be perceived as sneaky to present your company as tirelessly trying to make the world a better place, then mining and selling the data of those that use your service, it follows what’s quickly becoming the web’s golden rule:

If you’re not paying for it, YOU’RE the product being sold



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