When someone uses a free service such as Gmail, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, they are not a customer of the service provider.
For free services, the customer of the service provider is the advertiser.
The product offered by the service provider to advertisers is a combination of the service itself and the users of the service. In other words, free users are a part of a product offering for advertisers.
As such, many free services, including those referenced above, include inline ads. These are usually in the form of sponsored posts or messages.
Free users are a source of demographic and online behavioral data that service providers can use to better target their advertisers’ (customers’) ads. As long as user data is not shared outside of a service provider’s organization, incorporating this information actually benefits a user.
How? By providing more relevant ads to the user. In marketing speak, these ads are better targeted to a user’s preferences.
As long as as a user of a free service is going to see ads, the ads might as well be for something the user might consider buying—as opposed to ads for things that are irrelevant to the user.
Some service providers allow personal user data to leave their platform. Facebook reportedly gave large companies special access to user data in 2018.
Google, which seems to have higher privacy standards than Facebook, does not allow personal data to leave its platform. Nor does Google use sensitive personal information for its ad targeting. In fact, Google allows a user to disable ad personalization altogether across Gmail, YouTube and other Google properties.
Despite these controls, ads will persist within the Gmail interface as promoted messages.
So, how can a user become a customer of a service provider instead of being part of the product? How can they stop seeing ads, targeted or otherwise?
How can a user prevent having their demographic and online behavior from being used at all, including for benign purposes such as targeted ads?
By paying for the service.
Facebook does not yet offer a paid level of service. Nor does Twitter. LinkedIn has a paid option called LinkedIn Premium.
How to Become a Google Customer
Google has three paid possibilities for current Gmail users.
A Gmail user can subscribe to the minimum level of additional Google One file storage. The cost for 100GB of additional file storage is only $1.99 per month (or $19.99 if pre-paid for a year). Gmail users who want to use Google One as an alternative to a service such as Dropbox can subscribe to higher levels of file storage—all the way up to a whopping 30TB.
YouTube Music & YouTube Premium
A Gmail user can subscribe to YouTube Music or to YouTube Premium. An individual membership to the latter is $11.99 per month. A family membership is $17.99 per month.
A YouTube Premium subscription will suppress YouTube ads.
A single Gmail user or a group of Gmail users within an organization can move to an option called G Suite. A Gmail user or user can keep their free Gmail account and optionally forward their incoming emails from Gmail to paid G Suite. They can easily toggle between their consumer and business email accounts.
In many ways, G Suite is identical Gmail. However, there are some key differences aside from the absence of ads.
For small businesses, other benefits include:
- Access to technical support
- A professional domain (instead of gmail.com)
- An online meeting app called Hangouts Meet
Whether it’s a quick and inexpensive addition of file storage, or a move to a business version of Gmail, free Gmail users can become Google customers and stop seeing ads.