We work for them.

Members of the popular careers website Guardian Jobs recently received an email notification that the website had been hacked. Members’ personal details had been stolen by the hackers, with the breach affecting members who were currently engaged in job searching as well as those whose job search may have ended quite some time ago. I’m one of the latter members. My data has been compromised, and I’m angry.

The email notification outlines the nature of the security breach as well as steps that members can take to protect themselves from malicious use of the data. Read that again: steps that members can take to protect themselves from malicious use of the data.

The Guardian have lost my data. Now I need to fix it for them. 

That doesn’t sound right, does it? I’m a customer of the Guardian. They should be looking out for my interests and serving me by fixing this problem, shouldn’t they?

Well this is not strictly true. Most commercial news businesses do not sell news: they sell audiences to advertisers. Readers aren’t customers but products, packaged by the news that they read into an audience and sold as a job lot according to their demographic profile and lifestyle choices. Guardian Jobs, a 21st century classifieds section, doesn’t sell advertising space: it sells the attention of desirable job applicants to recruiters. The Guardian’s product hasn’t been broken by their security breach as their real customers, the advertisers, are safe. The Guardian doesn’t have a financial relationship with me or its thousands of members, so they see little incentive in serving our needs. It’s doubtful they would ask paying customers to contact their bank, check their credit file, or register themselves on a list of persons at risk: they’d do that for them as part of the service. But I’m not the Guardian’s customer: I’m their product, I’m a resource, I work for them.

I was surprised that this incident has passed with so little comment. Guardian Jobs must have many thousands of members, and this security breach could be affecting them all in a very real way, yet I haven’t seen much in the way of a backlash. Twitter should be out in force decrying this failure in the website’s duty of care. Questions should be asked of the Guardian’s response which puts the onus on individual consumers. Instead: nothing.

How, in these times of consumer activism and online protest has this passed uncommented? Given the pressures of the marketplace, why do The Guardian not have to work hard to keep in favour with their audience?

Perhaps even in this digital age the old myths of the mainstream news media still hold true today: we work for them, all the while thinking we are the customer when in fact we’re the product.

By Jon Hickman

Hi, I'm Jon. I teach and research digital culture, social media and new media practice at Birmingham City University. Find out more about me with this lovely CV: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/jonhickman Find out about my work at the Birmingham Centre for Media & Cultural Research: http://interactivecultures.org