Why Are Free Apps Free?

You may wonder why Facebook, Google and Twitter let us use their platforms for free. Are they so generous that they produce mobile applications for the society? What an altruistic act! The answer is in the contract that we quickly agree with before we use their free services called “terms of use.” Basically, we agreed that some of our information will be used by the service provider when we created our account. For example, when we signed up for a Gmail account, we gave rights to Google to get access to every email we send, receive and store.

However, there is no need to be worried about your privacy. Even though Google can view all your emails and scan them, no real person really pries on your secret messages between you and your boyfriend. The scan is run by an automated system just to screen a potential spam or phishing attack. Google announced this summer that they will no longer scan our emails for “targeted advertising.”

If you are a marketing or communication student, you may have heard the term “targeted advertising” before. It is a form of advertising that keeps following you to every site you are visiting. One day, if you checked the price of UGG boots on Macy’s website, the next day you will see UGG boots advertising from Macy’s on all over your social channels. You may see one on Facebook, one on your favorite makeup blog, or even one on your phone. Sometimes, you may see an ad from a knock-off brand with a tempting price instead.

Don’t freak out how the advertising finds you. Not only has social media applications collected our data and tracked our behavior, but also all websites providing interesting and useful content to the users. All the activities you did online were recorded through “cookies.” When you visit a website, it will create a cookie on your device. It is something advertisers use to learn your behavior and choose an ad that they think is right for you.

The reason why we can use social media or read articles and news for free is because we have already paid our price in information. Besides, all the free service providers can monetize their services through advertising without bothering users like us. I would say this is fair and a win-win situation. Obviously, this trend will be around for years, so enjoy the free service of various social media platforms.


Author: Ken Pinetawee, Graduate Consultant


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