Things Cost Money & Why You Want to Pay for Them.

Things Cost Money & Why You Want to Pay for Them.

Someone wiser than I once coined the phrase that “if you are not paying for the product, you are the product”. How right they are. Free products are rarely truly free. 

Haven’t you ever wondered how Facebook, Waze, Gmail, Instagram, Pinterest, or even Google can offer you free access to the wonderful phenomena of the world wide web and social media? It’s very simple. Each and every time you access those sites or use those applications you are sharing something about yourself; often a lot of things. It’s where you shop and what you buy, it’s where you travel and how much you will pay for a ticket; it’s what styles you’ll view, what size clothes you wear, and which people you “follow”.  It’s even which political party you “like”. It’s a constant 24/7 survey of your life.  

There may or may not be anything nefarious about this data collection; it’s more often used for marketing and sales than anything else. But even ignoring the higher risk of identify theft you take each time you “share”, there are agencies and groups who could, and do, use personal data for illegal gain. Regardless of what the end use is, you are giving away your precious data for free while others are making a killing on your information. 

Take Facebook just as an example.

Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion, or $30 per each user. They also bought Instagram to access that app’s 33M users for a similar price. Why would Facebook do this? One reason is so that they can show their advertisers how many possible eyes would be on any ads placed on Facebook. But the other reason is: Facebook can now sell their users’ data to any number of interested parties. The price these companies are willing to pay for bits of data may seem small (less than a penny per “piece”) but multiply that by millions and then multiply that by a per day, per month, or per year contract between Facebook and company X and now we’re talking big money. And this happens all the time on virtually every site you visit and every time you use “free” software. 

Every time you agree to share your information you can count on someone selling it. 

The most outlandish abuse of this data collection and resale is probably Cable TV. If you are of a certain age you might remember what Cable TV promised when it first arrived. “Pay for TV”? That was unthinkable. But the cable companies told viewers that in exchange for paying a monthly fee, viewers (read: consumers) would no longer be exposed to TV ads. After all, even if the airways belonged to all of us, it had been advertisers that paid for programing.  For viewers who wanted uninterrupted programs, this sounded like a fair trade. Viewers would pay for programming in exchange for not having to be subjected to ads. Well, that arrangement lasted for about 10 seconds and now, not only do we pay for the privilege of hooking up to cable, we still have to sit through advertisements. On top of that, now cable companies can, and do, collect the data about our viewing choices and sell that to, well, anyone including advertisers. Keep in mind, this isn’t even a free service - you pay for Cable TV! 

Perhaps we should be asking why don’t we reap the benefit of the sale of our own data? Google and the University of Trento in Italy performed a study. The results showed people could make €700, or US$830, per year if they were paid what they see as fair for their personal data. ( Jul 10, 2014) 

So what can we do? 

Well, first of all, be aware. Think about how you use the internet and what each search and use might be sharing about you. If you chose not to share your every move with application owners, don’t. You can search using Incognito searches; you can choose to opt out of having GPS software know where you are at all times, you can turn off apps when not in use. Remember to actually sign out of sites and applications, not just close them. 

Secondly, look for options that allow you to control the amount of personal data you are willing to share.  You can opt out of cable tv and access those for-fee entertainment programs that don’t require anything beyond your secure credit card (yes, they have your IP address but you can also block any access beyond that with various firewalls). While many applications ask for personal data, there are some that allow you to “skip” these steps and still have access to the software. 

Lastly, remember, Things Cost Money. And Good Quality Things Cost More Money. You do get what you pay for.  Be willing to pay for software and mobile apps. For-fee apps usually have less incentive to collect and sell your data. Look for applications that don’t require you to sign up, link up, or sign in. When given the choice to take a free version or one that costs a few dollars, spend the money. It'll actually cost you less than you might think.

Happy Travels! Cheers!

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