The Cost of Free

If someone says ‘does it cost anything to make a Facebook account?’ the instinctive answer would be no. I know friends have asked me this question multiple times and up until now I would have always replied no. It was only when I sat back a thought about it I realised we surrender something much more valuable when creating a digital presence, we surrender our identity. Imagine making an account on any site and they will always ask you the routine questions, what is your name, your email address, your phone number. And while we obediently type them in, if this information were to fall into the wrong hands any one of us could find ourselves at the centre of an identity theft case pleading that we are who we claim we are.

Although use of the internet is ‘free’ the word free can be interpreted in many ways. One distinction can be made between the concepts of gratis and libre. The sense of free as gratis relates to cost; that cost could include monetary as in zero price, but it can also include other costs. Free as in libre relates the word free to the ideas of freedom and liberty; for example, not controlled by obligation, not enslaved, not subject to interference (The Cost of Free). There are things such as software that each person finds themselves paying for to make their access to the internet useful. A quote by Krotowski in 2010 really sums it up: ‘Web – set on a collision course with conventional notions of social order and hierarchy.’ Even in metaphysical spaces such as the web, people feel the need to create a hierarchy. However the Internet would not be possible without the world wide web, created by Tim Berners-Lee, which is an information system which operates within the internet itself. While many of us are happy to surrender our personal details to this information system it does raise the question why we are so happy to share them in the first place?

What many people are not aware of is that a lot of the content on the internet is paid for by adware. What is even more terrifying is that you will see ads for things you are much more likely to buy thanks to better ad serving technologies. Since advertisers have a variety of websites that their ads are served on, your web usage patterns can be analysed and better ads served to you (Adware). While some people do not take offence at this others feel it is an invasion of their privacy. Although legitimate adware will always ask for your consent before operating on your computer (Adware Threats) many people will simply tick the box and forget about it. However, it is strange to think that some person in the world knows every single thing that you have ever typed into Google. However, whether we like it or not, if ads on the internet did not exist we as consumers would be paying much more to be able to have the privilege of using the internet. The sweet spot for the next generation of internet entrepreneurs is to find a way to make ads less intrusive and more relevant rather than trying to get rid of them altogether. (Adware)