When Free Isn’t Really Free

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The tools you see below are ones we use every day:

  •  Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Gmail and other email programs
  • Nearly all Internet content
  • Google and other search engines

We could name dozens more, and when you think about what a large part of our lives they’ve become, it’s truly amazing. And they’re all free!

Well, sort of. Of course, all come with various forms of advertising—and in some cases the ads are getting more and more intrusive. For example, my yahoo page (where I get personal emails) is getting ridiculous with animated home page ads that fill the screen and a Where’s-Waldo-close-button.

And of course advertising is just one part of it. More importantly, they’re collecting information about us for additional marketing in the forms of behavioral targeting and retargeting.

I’m a 20+ year advertising professional, so I’m not one to cry over advertising, especially when it’s the flip side of using something most of us aren’t paying for. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll be paying for these services anytime soon (I think it’s a similar scenario to newspapers publishing digital content for free–the time to get people to pay for it has come and gone). But it also won’t be surprising to see things like retargeting become more detailed, nuanced and intrusive.

Maybe that’s the way it should be. I know it sounds funny, but if you want something for free, you have to pay for it. What freaks me out a little is that we’re paying not just with advertising, but with our privacy.

About 3 years ago one of our Art Directors and I were chatting and he remarked that he just couldn’t believe how willingly we all gave up our privacy. And he’s right. As one staggering example, really stop and think about all the information Facebook captures about you and your family.  I’m not sure how consciously we made these choices and I don’t think we’re likely to get the genie back in the bottle, but it’s shocking when you think about how much of our personal information is just sitting out there for everyone to see.

Perhaps in the future there will be a new connotation to the word “privacy.” Come to think of it, we could also use a new definition of the word “free.”


About Tony Rosato

Tony Rosato, Alstin's Vice President, Client Development, is the most well-traveled member of our team and one of the nicest guys we know. Sharing his 20 years of industry experience with prospective clients everywhere, Tony's Type A personality is powered by premium iced tea (but never chocolate).