Privacy is not free

Introduction
Privacy is not free

(Almost) Everybody uses Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, right? Well, not everyone, but the majority does. Especially when it comes to Google or Facebook.

Most Facebook users love chatting with other friends via Facebook Messenger or posting new pictures with other friends. Let's not forget posting pictures on Instagram.

Simpler, who doesn't use Google every day, maybe more than once a day? (I'm not talking with you, non-Google people !)

There is nothing wrong WITH doing that, right? Right...?

I am not here to talk to you about right or wrong, but I can tell you a bit of a  difference between using a paid service (or a privacy-focused service) versus a free one. Hang tight, I will explain.

Using a free service

Who doesn't love free stuff, am I right? I love free stuff, everybody does. So why getting free stuff is a bad thing, you may ask?

In 90% of the time, every time you get a free thing, you give up something else. That's the way it works.

Let's talk about Google.

Almost all products that Google offers are free: Search, Hangouts, Maps, Gmail, Youtube, and the list can go on and on.

Maybe you have thought of this, maybe you haven't. How Google or any company that offers free products to its users is generating revenue? In simpler words, how are these companies making money?

Ads, ads, ads, ads. Oh, and ads.

I'm not following you, Andrei...

Okay, let me give you an example.

You go on https://www.google.com and search for a pair of Nikes. You look at some results, you scroll a bit and then you say, well, I don't really like Nikes.

Next thing you know, the following days, guess what, you bump into some Nike ad on your Facebook account.

Hmm, come to think about it, I actually noticed that once...

That's how ads work today. Each of us becomes an identifier to the ads algorithm and we get more and more relevant stuff.

When you become the "product"

When a company's main revenue is from advertising, you become the "product".

Have you wondered why Facebook or Google wants all your personal data (first name, last name, gender, birthdate, phone number, location)?

Let's go with another example with Facebook now.

Did you know that Facebook owns both Instagram and WhatsApp?

Not interesting, right?

Well, it is a bit interesting. Instagram has ads. WhatsApp will have ads pretty soon.

Still not interesting?

Think of the possibilities. All that juicy personal data, all your liked posts, interests from Facebook can now be used to show you ads relevant with your interest both Instagram and WhatsApp. But not necessary.

Facebook let businesses bid advertisements on your interests from all these products to get you into buying their product. We all love Nikes, right?

Boring!!!

Here's another view:

Everything you add on your Facebook profile, like liking a new page, or a movie, you name it, it can be transformed in a pretty nice psychological profile.

It is said that in the near future if we keep this pace, companies like your insurance company or your next employer will exploit your public social profiles to determine if you are worthy of their time.

I am not sure if you understand this concept, but long story short, you might miss your next dream job just because you took a photo based on which the employer considered you to be a wrong candidate. Obviously, you can explain taking that photo, right? Well, too late for that.

It already started.

Whoever says that is a freaking liar.

If you have nothing to hide, why do you close your curtains at all time?

Everyone has something to hide. Even if it is not something illegal, we always have things that we like to keep for ourselves.

Okay, but what about the paid services?

Well, these are the second category of companies that need to generate in some way revenue.

When you get what you pay for

Whenever you go the route of paying for a product, you pay for the product/service itself. The company's main focus is not to target you with ads, but providing you the best service for the money you spent.

I am going to deny that there are companies out there still trying to provide you relevant recommendations based on your viewed TV series or movies and whatnot, but the amount of abusive processing of your data shrinks a bit.

Why would I pay for something that I can get for free?

Obviously, that is something that is totally up to you.

But if you value for your privacy, you should read more carefully the privacy policy of the free services that you are using and see how your data is being processed.

You will be surprised how your data is a money generator. So why wouldn't you pay for a service if the company actually values your privacy?

But there are so many open-source alternatives and those are free, right?

Ideally, this would be the advice from a lot of privacy advocates. And I would agree with them.

You get a free product and no company is there to target you with ads or sell your data or other shenanigans.

But think about it for a second. Are open source alternatives really free when you use them?

Let's take an example: A mail server as an alternative to Gmail.

You can install your mail server on your PC or a hosted server where you have full control over your data.

And that's super awesome, right?

Of course! But if you host it at home or on a hosted server, you still need to pay electricity or pay a monthly fee for the hosted server.

That's not really free, is it?

And I haven't even mentioned the fact that you spend not only money but also, time when you go full DIY geek.

I remember so many sleepless nights when my email server got down, or when my NextCloud stopped working and got into full panic mode as I thought all my stuff will get lost.

Of course, DYI is much cheaper than paying a subscription for a mail server. But the security that you need to prepare when you are obviously not an expert, the time spent trying to keep the server up, the money spent on electricity, is it really worth it?

What about privacy-oriented companies?

It would be unfair to not mention these companies. A few that I use are Brave, DuckDuckGo.

These companies are primarily focused on providing privacy as a first-class citizen.

Needless to say, there is still hope in the free services part that will fight for users rights and not for its own interests.


As a conclusion, everyone is free (no pun intended) to choose whatever service fits the best, but bare in mind this:

You get what you pay for.

Author

Andrei Sfat

Not your average software developer. Privacy enthusiast.

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