No. It Is Not for Free.

Atualizado: 17 de Out de 2019

Everyone has the right to know what the deal is and feel free to make a decision.

An entire eco-system of free software surrounds us with solutions for our every-day demands and entertainment needs. Many are well-known market leaders. But why are they offering their time and energy to help us? Do they care about our wellbeing? On this post, I am going to examine the real motivation behind one of the most intriguing industries of our time: the attention industry. But first, let us understand how this industry came to be.


When the industry treats goods or services as interchangeable, they are called commodities. Soil, corn, and wheat are examples. It does not matter if you buy corn from producer A, B or C. It is still considered corn. When goods or services are commodities, prices are the main reason for decision-making in negotiations. What is crucial here is to understand that commodities tend to have a lower aggregated value than industrial products and services, but at the same time, they are an essential part of the production chain.


In the past, creating ads that targeted consumer's attention was a guessing task as companies had not much information about their potential consumers. Getting to know what people were thinking, and their buying intentions was a daunting, expensive manual task of preparing opinion polls, conducting personal and phone interviews, and required a lot of effort to accomplish.

As technology improved, many of these tasks gradually became more manageable and quicker to complete. Meanwhile, companies started to turn into huge enterprises that aimed at sky-high profits plus an enormous appetite for growth. The rise of the Internet and the increase in computer processing power created the perfect scenario for retrieving information from - not a small group - but millions of individuals. The Internet was the way to get as many information as possible from users by sending thousands of unsolicited emails asking for personal data without offering anything substantial in return. These messages became known as SPAM. Simultaneously, marketing departments all over the world started creating websites with lots of pop-up windows also requesting personal data, to sign up for a mailing list, for example. This practice became so annoying that eventually lead to the development of a pop-up blocking feature embedded in web browsers. The feature still exists today in many browsers.

For many years, this was the norm. Meanwhile, web email clients started to appear everywhere on the Web. Some even featured very decent SPAM filtering. The era of bulk email and annoying pop-up windows was coming to an end, and something needed to be done to replace this marketing strategy. Luckily, after the second half of the 21st century, social networks and smartphones became increasingly popular. Some characteristics of these two technologies created an exciting opportunity for marketing departments. First, adverts could be easily inserted both into apps and social network webpages to help fund the business. Secondly, the business model supported last-minute changes and allowed an incredible range of activity, reaching millions of users anywhere where the Internet was available. Finally, the most crucial feature was the ability to exploit the human mind and drive people to disclose inimaginable data about how they were thinking and behaving online. The attention industry was born.

The commodity: Users

After the discovery of data marketing, many companies' CEOs saw their wealth increase substantially — some begun to talk about only believing in God and data. The truth is, Big Data - a new way of processing an enormous amount of data - amazed many CEOs on how much more money it could make for their company for then successfully convince company's investors to raise their CEO annual revenues to the stratosphere.

On the other edge, Internet users. Data producers treated as commodities, happy users of freeware. But wait. If you take a close look into the terms of service that you agree to when signing up for a service or downloading an app, you realize that you are allowed to use their service or product because you are paying them back with valuable data.

Switching Back to Payware (Or Not)

Therefore, users need to take into consideration what is worth their attention and personal data. What will you be getting in return? How important are your privacy and your time for you?

With this in mind, maybe is the time to switch back to paying for services and products that clearly state their intentions on how they profit from you. You pay for them to provide you with a solution, and they survive as a company. No adverts or selling data to others. Just good old win-win business. It is up to us - as users - to decide.

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