Are “free” web-services cheese in a mousetrap? (or why you should stop selling your privacy for a $1)


There is a price to all the free services you’re using.

The last few months everyone seems to be freaked out about NSA spying on the world (and their own citizens in particular). It seems to even have become fashionable to complain about surveillance, demand stuff from congressmen, CEO’s, the government. It’s all very nice, but people seem to be missing the point:
Your privacy is being sold every single day to the lowest bidder for a price as low as 5$ per year, and the NSA isn’t the only buyer.

Our privacy is like a drug that ad agencies, governments and enterprises can easily get addicted to. It’s a high of increased awareness of the user’s behaviour that’s hard to resist, followed by increased tolerance, and a desire to know more. In this metaphoric comparison to drug abuse, illegal contraband, e.t.c, while the users are not angels themselves, the seller is the ugliest party in this whole business.

Now, think with me: who is the seller? Who are the buyers? and what is (or who is) the product? Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn were all among the 10 biggest IPO’s ever, which probably means they have a really well selling product to sell to a very demanding market. Right? You’re obviously not the buyer, because you’re not paying a cent to use any of those services. So, obviously, that leaves you as the product.

Revenue Per User
(source: Investors Mosaic)

A quick search through public records of the above companies reveals how much you’re being sold for. The dollar figures above are yearly revenues per user. You are basically selling your privacy for less than $100 per year. How do you feel about that? We all cry and protest against NSA (the buyer) invading our privacy, against ad agencies using our private information to show us relevant ads e.t.c, but we ignore the fact that we’re being sold for as low as $5 a year.

Again, there is a price to all the free services you’re using. That price is your privacy. As long as we’re flocking to eat that free cheese in a mouse trap, we have little authority to protest against all those buyers addicted to the high of knowing everything about us. We are not dealing with the core issue.

Which brings me to my point:
In this war for our privacy, we have to start seeing things clearly. We have to be able to understand what we’re agreeing to when we’re empowering the currently prevalent business model. Personally, I would rather pay $5 per year for a social service, than use it for “free” and become the product, sold for $5 per year. What about you?

I’m not saying the scenario I’m raising up won’t make everything tap-proof, but I do think that it’s better to be a customer, and not the sold product.

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  • k0nsl

    It does not matter if you’ll pay five bucks or nothing, you will still have very little (if any) privacy. To overcome the issue of privacy we must begin at the root – cure the disease rather than the symptom, so to speak.
    The issue is at government / state level. Those who rule us are the main problem.

    • Danny Povolotski

      I agree. However, the government aren’t the only ones buying that information. In fact, they jumped on the bandwagon relatively late.

      The very existence of all those “free” services shows that there is a huge market of buyers of all that information.

  • PeterisP

    There are no reasons to believe that paid services are in any way different – a paying user’s data goes to NSA anyway, and is also linked to the ID on the creditcard.

  • drhowarddrfine

    Back in the day, everyone had their name, telephone number and address published in the White Pages but you paid for your telephone line. Nowadays, you get a free internet service in exchange for your name and email address.

    When you went to the department store, the store kept track of your purchases and sent you advertisements in the mail. Some could target you based on your past purchases. Today, internet services track your purchases and serve you advertisements based on past purchases.

    What’s the diff? Why are people howling over this?

  • obiwanginobli

    pandora has left the box. you, however, are so deep in your own echo chamber, rehashing things we all knew years and months ago, that the real world must look like a tiny speck