Profits, privacy, and the business model of Google

I’ve noticed that many people don’t seem to understand how the different business models of Google and, say, Apple result in completely different products, pricing, and privacy terms.

First, it is absolutely a given that both companies’ primary goal is to make money. Second, it is also a given that both companies strive to provide innovating, industry leading products to their customers and both companies are wildly successful.

The part that is apparently not clear to everyone is that when you buy an iPhone from Apple, you are now one of Apple’s customers, but when you sign up for Gmail, you are not one of Google’s customers. If you’re thinking about this correctly, then it should already be plausible to you that Google makes more money from Apple’s iOS on iPhones and iPads than Google does from their own operating system Android. The punchline here is that Apple’s customers are electronics consumers and Google’s customers are advertisers.

The consequences of this difference are huge.

Apple’s business model requires that their electronic gadgets remain appealing enough that they can get your money for one of those gadgets. Compare this to Google’s business model requires that they convince an advertiser that they can get your attention and collect the advertisers money.

If you are a small business owner like me whose enjoys Apple gadgets and has tried advertising with Google, then you have forked over money to both companies and this distinction and the consequences are probably obvious. But what if you are just an electronic gadget consumer with no interest in advertising? Then it’s quite possible that you have used google “products” such as gmail, maps or android for free, but paid a nice premium to buy that new iPhone. Strange, no? So, from this perspective these google products are a fantastic value—how could a company actually wanting to sell you an email client or map program compete?

As it turns out, Apple does have an email client built in the iPhone and available through their iCloud services. For Apple, this email client is used to sell iPhones and other gadgets to you by virtue of their tight integration. For Google, their email client, Gmail, is used to sell advertising to businesses, by virtue of their ability to harvest user data and better target ads to users of Gmail.

So finally, it should be clear that it is in Apple’s interest to keep your information private (since gadget consumers don’t like their information shared), but it is in Google’s interest to harvest your information (since it targets ads better).

Note that you could substitute Sony or Microsoft or Garmin for Apple here, and the same basic logic would apply. The biggest difference is that the advertising model that Google has requires that they find eyeballs, which they have chosen to do by giving away decent software for free. In contrast, the others companies, generally, make their money on the very products they are asking electronics consumers to use. Very different.