Selling You and Your Clicks: Examining the Audience Commodification of Google

  • Hyunjin Kang The Pennsylvania State University
  • Matthew P. McAllister The Pennsylvania State University
Keywords: Audience commodification, Political Economy of Media, Google, AdSense, AdWords


Using a political economy perspective, this paper argues that Google’s surplus value from advertising results from its extensive and transformative commodification of users. The unique features of Google as an advertising venue intensify the commodification of its users as compared to traditional media in several ways. First, the simplified valorization process of Google’s advertising methods enables Google to earn significantly more surplus value than those of traditional media. Also, Google’s personalized advertising strategies, its precise measurement of advertising costs based on users’ behaviors represented as “the number of clicks,” and the unclear distinction between advertisements and serviced content commodify its users’ online activities. Lastly, this essay asserts that Google commodifies the aggregated consciousnesses of its users because it sells keywords for advertisers to attach advertisements to search-data output, which are priced in accordance with their popularity. This “click-through” form of behavioral commodification has significant implications for the future of media.