Why are Facebook, Gmail etc all free?

Have you ever wondered why a lot of the internet services and products that you use are all free for you to use? I’m reading Future Crimes by Marc Goodman at the moment, and it explains why in very clear detail. I’m only about a third of the way through, and it’s pretty scary reading. All it’s done so far is to set the scene about the data we share. To give you a little clue, check out this clip from the Onion News Network.

You may think that the myriad of advertisements which appear on your screen when you visit all these sites are what is paying for your free service, and you’d almost be right. What’s actually happening is that you are the product, not the advertisers. Every bit of data you post, every tweet, every picture is captured, along with details on every device you use, its location, every browser or app you use. That will include this blog article and the tablet device I’m writing it on right now. All of this information is bought and processed by data aggregation companies, and sets of data are then sold to advertisers.

Ever wondered why, if you shop at the same supermarket chain (not even the same store) regularly and use a loyalty card, the vouchers you get are for product which may complement your regular shop? So if you buy a lot of cheese, there’s a high likelihood you’ll get vouchers for crackers which go well with cheese. More and more complex algorithms are being developed to predict what you are likely to want to buy, and where you are likely to be in the next few days.  For example, if you buy a selection of swimming trunks, shorts, t-shirts and sun tan lotion, it’s likely the adverts you see will include travel insurance and holidays to sunnier places.  All of this is down to the trail of data you leave, even if you’re unaware of it. 

And the big secret? You can’t stop it. Have you read any of the Terms and Conditions you’ve signed up to? Probably not – those documents are big, they’re convoluted, and they often refer to other documents. In Future Crimes for example, evidence is given to show that the Terms and Conditions for PayPal are actually longer than the play Hamlet by Shakespeare. In them, you will almost certainly have consented to data which is collected being shared with others, without additional permission from you, and also to allowing the Ts and Cs to be changed whenever the company wants.  Oh, and get this – they also probably say somewhere that your data can be harvested from any kind of technology, known or unkown ie on systems that haven’t even been developed yet.  

If you’re trying to reduce your footprint, wave goodbye to store cards and credit cards, use cash at all times, and don’t carry a mobile device of any kind, because those are also pumping out data which tracks you.  They’re your own personal GPS!  Living off the grid is practically impossible.  

I’ll just say, read the book, and prepare to be dazzled!  


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