Google's Price for �Free' News is Far Too High

Don Tennant

Google CEO Eric Schmidt wants to dive even deeper into the news business by keeping track of what stories we read, and feeding us our news based on Google's analysis of our reading habits. I can't be the only one who's perturbed by the intrusiveness of that prospect.

Speaking at the annual convention of the American Society of News Editors in Washington last night, Schmidt suggested that Google can help save the dying newspaper industry. Here's an excerpt from a Politico report on the scheme:

News sites should use technology to predict what a user wants to read by what they have already read, he said-technology his company has. Schmidt said he doesn't want 'to be treated as a stranger' when reading news online. He also said he wants to be challenged through technology that directs readers to a story with an opposing view. Google, he said, can uncover why a news organization doesn't have readers in specific areas.

I'm not a privacy zealot, but I have a problem with that. Exactly how would this plan play out? If Google sees that I read an article about the pope's alleged lack of responsiveness to concerns about abusive priests back when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, is Google going to start feeding me random pedophilia stories?

Politico mentioned another facet of Schmidt's plan to save the news:

Schmidt said his firm is working on new ways to tailor advertisements and content for consumers, based on what stories they read. Personalized technology for news could help in tailoring advertisements for individual readers.

So let's get this straight. Since Google and my news source are keeping track of what stories I read anyway, they might as well sell that information to advertisers. Another intrusive blow.

It's all about the tradeoff we appear to be increasingly willing to make. I passed a giant billboard yesterday here in Shrewsbury, Mass., for a local news Web site. 'Never pay for news again!' the billboard screamed. That said it all.

Because of the way the Web as a media outlet has evolved, we're no longer willing to pay for news, news analysis, opinion or features. We'd rather be bombarded with invasive, annoying, malware-infested online ads, and even have some giant corporation keep track of our reading habits and feed us our news and advertising accordingly, than pay a few bucks a month for a news subscription, be it in print or online. How odd.

The supply of information about what's happening in our personal and professional worlds is one of the most valuable services available to us, yet it may be the one we're least willing to pay for. I'm not sure why that is, but I'm certain that the price we pay for 'free' information, while not monetary, will ultimately prove to be astronomical.

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