Just a few weeks ago, it was revealed that the FBI will be going through a huge stack of emails they stole from a free service, to find some peaceful people they can publicly prosecute. The service was called Tor Mail…and their advertising slogan was Free Anonymous Email.
Supposedly, this system was ironclad and immune from government attacks. And, presumably, the operators would do this very hard thing, forever, and for free. That’s just not rational, regardless of the operator’s intentions.
Nonetheless, a small army of people signed up and used the service. It was free, after all!
Now, they are being burned, and maybe badly. That sucks, and they almost certainly don’t deserve it, but it was also rather predictable.
Free is for suckers. Always has been, still is. Jump at “free,” and you volunteer to pay the piper eventually.
Free Contributions Versus Free Services
There is a fundamental difference between free contributions and free services. Free contributions can be honest, important, and noble.
Phil Zimmerman gave us PGP, Tim Berners-Lee gave us HTTP, and Satoshi Nakamoto gave us crypto-currency. All of these were gifts, for which we should be grateful.
Operating a service, however, is something different:
- The contribution – the gift – requires a specific and limited expense of time and passion.
- A service requires daily work, most of it less than exciting. And there is no end to it.
Gifting something to the world is wonderful and deserves our gratitude. There’s nothing wrong with it. Nor is there a real problem with the shareware model, or with a free trial before buying, or the donations model.
Doing the daily grind that is necessary to run a service, however, is something very different. These are not acts of passion; they are acts of determination and endurance. Sure, there can be moments of passion, but an ongoing service requires far more than that. And, any service provider that can’t deal with “grind it out” work doesn’t survive.
The Free Service Game
Right now, free services rule the Internet. Yahoo, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram, and all the rest… their business model involves getting people to use their systems for free.
But if you use something for free, you are NOT the customer. These companies DO have customers who pay them money, but that’s not you… which means that you are the product!
Let’s not forget what Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg famously texted his friend:
Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard, just ask.
Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
Friend: What? How’d you manage that one?
Zuck: People just submitted it. I don’t know why. They “trust me”
Zuck: Dumb f*cks
Anything you run through a free service goes beyond your control, immediately and permanently. These companies are monetizing your life, and the lives of your family and friends. Again, you are the product, and they’re selling you to anyone who will pay.
No one really runs a service for free.
The same thing goes for smartphone apps, by the way. They give them to you for free, or for almost free, and they also sell your life to anyone who will pay. The primary purpose of most apps is to spy on you. Read their privacy statements sometime.
“Nothing Bad Will Happen”
This is said every day, as it has been by more or less all the victims of history. I’m not for walking around in fear of course, but if you grab at “free” products, you are stepping into a trap.
If you don’t know the price in advance, you’ll be charged anyway (in this case, by having your life sold), and you’ll overpay.
And bad things do happen, as they did to Brandon Raub.
Is ‘saving’ a couple bucks really that big a deal?