The True Cost of Facebook and other Free Online Services

by Matt Klassen on July 23, 2014

It’s really no surprise to hear that big Internet companies, particularly those named Google and Facebook, play fast and loose with users’ information, as privacy scandals have seemingly become the norm for these firms over the past few years. So perhaps that might explain why when news broke earlier this month that Facebook has been conducting mood experiments with its users, that is, attempting to elicit certain emotional responses from its users based on what they see in their media feed, that most of the rank and file Facebook users didn’t seem to know about it, despite a louder than usual outcry from privacy advocates.

The reasons behind Facebook’s constant intrusion into our private lives is that to Facebook we aren’t users, heck we aren’t even humans; we’re simply eyeballs on advertising, a means to an end of generating revenue. So it’s really no wonder that Facebook doesn’t often consider our needs when making decisions about its social network, as in the grand scheme of things, we really don’t matter, so long as we keep coming back that is.

But such is the nature of any free online service. While we are quick to blame Facebook, a place where we naturally place a great deal of personal information, other Internet companies like Google operate in exactly the same way, how else do you think Google makes money off its cadre of free online tools? Such an online existence, though, has some contemplating a better way, going so far as to ponder if users would actually pay for access to Facebook and other online services.

When the news broke earlier this month that Facebook had purposely manipulated users’ news feeds in an effort to answer the question whether or not users became unhappy when they see happy things as they’re surfing through Facebook, I’ll admit the backlash was more than I would have expected, given the tepid response to all the previous egregious violations of users’ online privacy. But that said, I noticed, in my circles at least, that still almost no one among the average rank and file knew that such a controversial mood study had happened, let alone that they should be mad about it.

But again, with Facebook and other such online services being free to use there has to be someway for these companies to generate the monumental amount of revenue they report quarterly, and the trade-off for users is that in order to use these services for free, they have to not only sign away much of the proprietary control over their own content, but they have to tacitly agree to be subjected to a steady stream of targeted advertising.

And when I say targeted advertising, I mean it, as Facebook has ostensibly been created as a social networking hub geared towards getting its users to divulge their personal interests, and then using advanced algorithms to turn those interests into laser-guided advertising. In fact I think it’s high time we started to think of Facebook not as a social network, but as an advertising hub…with a little social networking on the side.

But the only way to rid ourselves of those overbearing advertisements would be for companies to adopt a pay-to-use model, leaving many to ponder how many Facebook users would actually pay money to use the service. Sadly the answer seems to be, not many, as pay social networks do exist, and they are nothing compared to Facebook in terms of their user base.

Lamentably where that leaves us is stuck between a rock and hard place. If we want to use a social network (that other people actually use) then we’re stuck with the likes of Facebook and Google, and that means that we remain as nothing but eyeballs on advertising, cogs in these giant revenue generating machines; a dehumanizing fate if there ever was one.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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