Opinion: The price of free

by Elutidoye Oluwagbenga

Free is one of the most used adjectives on the internet because of our inclination for free things or services. We have at one time used the word on search engines for access to something “free” on the internet. We use free email addresses, free social media, free search engines, free applications, free operating systems and free storage cloud. We stock the pile of free internet things with free online schools, free entertainment, free information and job hunting on LinkedIn – for free or so we think.

To some, the internet is a dot org or charity of some sort where nuts dump things they achieved with their sweat for free. Isn’t it just wonderful how everything we need is free and popular – so we think? The truth is that because we are not paying for something doesn’t mean it’s free. It is also not free because it doesn’t have a price tagged to it. We are not downloading any application for free because a tech guy somewhere cares about doing the world a favour – NO. Everything on the internet has a price. We just don’t get to pay some in cash. We pay with our data/information. Yes, we hand over our data in exchange for the services we think we are getting for free.

One company that has provided this free service is the almighty Google. Google described itself as an American multinational technology company specialising in Internet-related services and products. These include online advertising technologies, search, cloud computing, and software. For a company that prides itself as a technology company to derive 96% of its revenue from its advertising programs shows something imprecise. Google is not your average tech company, it is an advertising company. Not many people accept this fact even when according to Wikipedia in 2006 fiscal year “the company reported $10.492 billion in total advertising revenues and only $112million in licensing and other revenues”.

This Google strategy makes us the product and their application is the service they offer in exchange for data which they sell. The data in their possession is priced far more than the luxury of free video calling or aesthetics of android. It has reduced us to data and patterns in the market. This way we are goods in the Google mall. Ever wonder why advertisements are getting more zealous in precision? The answer is that we are studied and understood based on choice history. The tailored advertisements are not predictive they are well-intentioned. Google, however, is not the only one exploiting digital privacy – companies like Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple (to an extent) are also in the business.

For example, check out this Facebook privacy policy snippet

“We collect the content and other information you provide when you use our Services, including when you sign up for an account, create or share, and message or communicate with others… how you use our Services, such as the types of content you view or engage with or the frequency and duration of your activities.”

On the flip side, the collection of these data helps some of these companies to function optimally like update us about traffic in our area, auto-complete our search, find videos we might like to watch, personalise our experience and updates.

All these free services and products are taking away our privacy. It might be harmless and pose no immediate danger but who can predict the result of these data in the wrong hands. knowing that someone or something is lurking behind the scene collating our information makes one cringe at such privacy infringement.

We are data and information on the internet, not humans.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Elutidoye Oluwagbenga writes from WaWashington D.C., USA.

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