There Ain’t No Free Lunch

I have to giggle a little bit over all the righteous outrage over Facebook using and (shudder) making MONEY off the junk we post and play with on the site. To hear some of the caterwauling from people who should know better – ahem, Steve Wosniak – you’d think people actually believe Facebook, Twitter and the rest are just public-spirited servants out to help us all find a sense of a World Community. Kumbaya, and all that.

I downloaded my entire Facebook user file last weekend. Because I’ve been on it a LONG time, it was big … close to a gigabyte of stupid ruminations, ad clicks, IP addresses of where I’d logged on and whatnot. Interesting that only about a half-dozen websites showed up as “accessing” my personal information, and those were the half-dozen places for which I use a Facebook logon … mostly the fitness apps I use on my cellphone. Maybe that’s because I’ve almost never played the “games” they push or taken more than a half-dozen of those dumb surveys or quizzes that pop up in the news feed. It always made intuitive sense to me, and now the “scandal” about Cambridge Analytics seems to prove it, that those buggers were there to maybe find out a bit more about me than I felt like sharing. I mean, does anyone really think they pay someone to create those quizzes just to give us some free fun? You PAY to do those surveys and quizzes by giving the people who do them a snapshot of YOU, and they in turn use that snapshot to … get ready for it … MAKE MONEY.

Like the headline says, there’s no free lunch. When you post something on Facebook or send a Gmail, the company that GAVE you that software has anonymous “bots” that scan for words, and they use those words to sell advertisers ads targeting what they think you’ve SAID you have an interest in. When my wife was rehabbing from amputation surgery a couple years ago, I was pretty open about it. Darned if my Facebook feed didn’t get CRAMMED with ads for durable medical supplies, walk-in bathtubs and the like. Nobody in a trenchcoat is sitting in a trailer reading your emails. But a robot is looking for words it can sell! And that’s what you “pay” for the free lunch you get using Facebook, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, AOL and the rest.

Is all that an invasion of privacy? Maybe. But PEOPLE aren’t looking at my mail – it’s a machine looking for hotwords. Is that a fair price to pay for the service you get? For my part, yeah. I pay a company cash money for a couple personal email addresses and if I found out THEY were scanning for content I’d be peeved. I’ve already paid for that!

There’s a parallel here to what we do on our radio stations; we give you 24 hours a day of “free” music. You “pay” us by sticking around for a few minutes an hour of commercials, and we pay the bills that way. I have a friend who pays cash for satellite radio. When THEY started putting commercials in the stream, he wanted to rip his radio out of the dash. He felt like he was suddenly paying double. You can pay for any service by paying for it, or by bartering something for it – a little of your time, or a little of your information. But nowhere, nohow, is something of value ever TOTALLY free!

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