Part of a series on who owns you and what it means.
“Free!” and “ad-supported” don’t belong together in the same breath. They’re mutually exclusive. The web isn’t free any more than the supermarket is free for the cake of soap on the shelf. The soap isn’t paying to be there, and you’re not paying for the web for the same reason. You’re the product. If you mattered at all you’d be getting a cut of the proceeds.
Google made $60,000,000,000, 60 billion, sixty billion-with-a-b, last year. Eighty eight percent of that is estimated to be from advertising. You are the eyes that advertising is buying. Are you seeing royalties from Google for your essential role in this? How about from Dataium ($2 billion profit per year)? Or BlueKai, Acxiom, or Omniture (now part of Adobe)? How about Splunk? (Don’t you just love the cool, we-juggle-at-the-office names?) Or any of the hundred other hidden internet tracking companies all making profit off you? There’s a Firefox extension called Lightbeam that shows just how many dozens, even hundreds, of sites are involved. Forbes had an article that showed an estimate of how much somebody is getting for shoving one banner ad at you. Not what you’re getting. You get nothing. You’re just a thing for sale.
It’s true that the search and social sites make life easier. But they’re under no obligation to make it better.
We’ve lost control over our own lives so completely that most people’s only response is to apply the pragmatism of the damned and ask “Whatchya gonna do?”
I don’t know what to do either. Tactics are never my strong suit. I’m just here to say that we better start realizing that privacy is absolutely essential to any kind of free or comfortable life where rights are respected. Unless you’re okay with a world where your boss knows you’ve been constipated recently, where you see higher prices because of the browser you happen to use, where you find yourself not even looking for information in case you get put on a list somewhere, unless you’re okay with what total surveillance means, privacy — an individual’s right to control her or his own data — is not optional.
There are some tools to help in the fight. A collection of anonymity extensions, useful tips at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Just today I saw this: Privacy Tools: opting out from data brokers. It shows just how much of a career it is to claw back even partial privacy from the leeches.
I know the tips don’t amount to much. They either do little or take too much time. But we have to start somewhere. We have to stop being pragmatic about how little there is we can do and just start doing it.