Cell-cell communication, also termed quorum sensing (QS), is a widespread process that coordinates gene expression in bacterial populations. The generally accepted view is that QS optimizes the cell density-dependent benefit attained from cooperative behaviors, often in the form of secreted products referred to as "public goods." This view is challenged by an increasing number of cell-associated products or "private goods" reported to be under QS-control for which a collective benefit is not apparent. A prominent example is nucleoside hydrolase from Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a periplasmic enzyme that catabolizes adenosine. Several recent studies have shown that private goods can function to stabilize cooperation by co-regulated public goods, seemingly explaining their control by QS. Here we argue that this property is a by-product of selection for other benefits rather than an adaptation. Emphasizing ecophysiological context, we propose alternative explanations for the QS control of private goods. We suggest that the benefit attained from private goods is associated with high cell density, either because a relevant ecological condition correlates with density, or because the private good is, directly or indirectly, involved in cooperative behavior. Our analysis helps guide a systems approach to QS, with implications for antivirulence drug design and synthetic biology.