Free or not-so-free: that is the question. In days gone by, the cost of a product or a service was exactly what it said on the price tag. $1.99 for a quarter-pounder, 23 cents for an apple or $10 for a car wash. However, as we move further into an increasingly digital economy, this is no longer the case. Instead of paying an agreed amount for an item, users are, knowingly or unknowingly, also paying with their personal data.
The average consumer doesn’t usually stop to consider the hidden costs that they are paying for access to the multitude of everyday services they are enjoying, including search engines, news websites, social media and wifi; or even the hardware they are using, like Google Home, Amazon’s Alexa, FitBits and Apple Watches. Almost everything is recorded, monitored and sold. Social media posts are tracked by algorithms to measure personal sentiment and values. GPS is used to track daily movements. Spending habits are identified. All of this and more besides is aggregated and sold for vast sums to interested parties.