The Guardian reports that Rupert Murdoch's News International holds information on its database about a third of the UK population.
This information has been provided willingly, when consumers sign up for Sky TV, or subscriptions to the Times, Sun, Sunday Times, and News of the World.
In a period of recession it was quite amazing to read that around 200,000 users are rated as 'high value', meaning that they were potentially worth as much as £600 a year each to News International.
When we talk in Media Studies about the relationships between institutions and audiences, it's useful to remember that often these relationships are predicated on financial transactions - the consumer pays, the institution delivers content, and increasingly, enhanced services.
However, the newspaper industry itself seems to be in terminal decline, with readership figures falling and ad revenues getting hammered by the move of advertisers to online sources. It should come as no surprise, then, that News International and the Guardian Media Group have been making noises recently about Google's dominant position. Not only does Google reap advertising revenue from visitors, but, say its detractors, it's 'stealing' revenue via its Google News aggregation service. This provides access to a range of news headlines, but also enables Google to make cash from associated on-screen advertising. This, claim NI et al, is not fair, because Google is in effect recycling someone else's news and making cash from it.
It's an interesting debate, since Google is driving more users to respective news providers, and evidence shows that online browsers are more likely to click on ads if they're using a search engine, and indeed, are more likely to make a purchase. There's a great article here that explains this in more detail.
And, as an end-note, it's worth observing that the Office of Fair Trading has ruled recently that it won't be referring Google to the Monopolies Commission, as it is a major driver for innovation, change and consumer satisfaction.
For the newspapers, they're going to need new business models. For those of us passionate about the media and the future of newspapers, it's going to be fascinating to see if the news print industry can respond to changing market dynamics faster and more effectively than the music industry managed, when faced with threats from online, MP3, and Apple.