We’ve technologically advanced more in this century at a rate only replicated by maybe the Greeks. The sum of publicly, and sometimes privately, available human knowledge at the tips of our fingers. Entire industries and livelihoods have been developed in order to take full advantage of the boom. To cultivate billion-dollar empires would have previously taken a few generations at the very least. People like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg managed to do it in 45 years at max; Mr. Zuckerberg did it in only 10. 

Take a look around you. What do you see? If you’re outside, you can probably spot a few people on their phones. What are they doing? Chances are, they’re going through their social media, watching a cool video, or chatting with someone they know. 

In our homes, social media just seems like it invades every single crevice of our lives. Children as young or even younger 5 have been gaining increasingly lenient access to the content they would have never been able to access just 20 years ago.

All this and more for the low low price of…wait, what did you say? It’s free? Public libraries that used to be our main source of external information were realistically quite expensive; licensing, maintenance, staffing, and the building itself weren’t exactly cheap. Now you’re saying that we can basically get the majority of that content from anywhere we want with only the upfront expense of a device being the gateway? Not to mention how communication and an ecosystem of mini-societies with their own culture are essentially open to anyone. Sign me up!

Hold that thought, how do multi-billion dollar corporations make money if they don’t charge for their primary service? 

Advertising.

Since much of our internet climate was adapted from the ways of “old media,” it’s no surprise that the system that made it work before was implemented into the “new media.” 

Along with that structure inescapably came commercials. Even though online ads don’t pay $115,000 for every 30 seconds of screentime, revenue exponentially increases with every new user of any “free” internet service.

To say that this vastly accepted consensus is inaccurate is a gross understatement. 

The internet of the real world isn’t the utopia of instant convenience that it’s been advertised to be. No, the access to freedom we have is made up by the handcuffs that we unknowingly put on ourselves. The internet isn’t free, it never has been. Whether it was the first time you use any online service or the hundredth, you and everyone else pays the same admission, their identity. 

It’s generally the same or identical among all websites, but let’s use Facebook as an example as it’s the statistically biggest social network.

The moment you create an account, they log everything you do: The pages you like. The people you interact with. What time and weather of the day you use Facebook. The very words you use when you type anything anywhere. They then take that information, analyze it, organize it into usable statistics to assemble an intricate profile of “you.” 

They know your habits, your preferences, they can even determine your sexual orientation and general vicinity without you ever explicitly giving them that information. Even data on your risk tolerance and emotional state have all been taken.

That alone is problematic, yet most people don’t know the extent of advertising while staring directly at it. All of the ads we see are monitored. It isn’t just if we clicked on the link or not. They record how long we look at it, how many times we came back to it, whether we shared it or not, and a whole lot more. 

Facebook then partners up with firms that monitor what we do in the real world. An ad for a nearby fast-food joint shows up and you post it online? Once they know that you’re susceptible to the campaign, they keep pumping you with ads till you buy even more. The more vulnerable they are to a product or service, they’ll increase the volume till you overdose. 

This advertising system has been inexplicably invasive to the level of telemarketers and religious groups. Side note: they sell your data to them too! 

Well, then, just delete your Facebook account! You’ll miss out on a few of your friend’s family photos or videos of animals doing dumb things but that’s well worth your privacy. In the end, you can always use your account for Messenger if you still need to use it to contact people. 

Yeah, sure, you do that. But good luck trying to escape Google. 

YouTube, Gmail, and Google Maps aren’t the only ways they can get to either. Even if you’re not on any Google-branded sites, they can continue to track your every move through the 15 million or so million websites they’re partnered with. That doesn’t exclude medical sites, shopping apps, and some marginal info on payment portals. Google has a front-row seat to the time you thought you had AIDS or bought that gift for your grandmother on the sixth of August, 2020, at 9:43 am. 

They know every company in the world that can exploit your every move for profit. What we know now is a mere fraction of the extent of what they do with our information. All we know is that they’re the equivalent of a spy to the king where they sell everything they hear and see for literal billions. Their real business model is not the monetization of their service; we are the ones being turned into monetization. 

In our desperate cry for the free consumption of media, we ourselves became the products. The entire catalog of the internet has relied on three methods to stay afloat: The philanthropic path where the site owner supports upkeep costs with their own money. The Netflix and Crunchyroll route has its users pay a monthly subscription for the movies and shows they provide. Then the most widely used ads and user information way. Facebook and Google’s hands were practically forced into choosing the latter to sustain the growth they initially built up. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Few things are ever truly free.

7.79 billion. That’s the total number of lives on the planet. Facebook has 2.85 billion users. Nearly a third of all humans have a Facebook account. Account for the duplicate and bogus accounts and the figure still hovers around a fourth of 7.79 billion. More than 22% of the total time spent online is spent on Facebook. All under the surveillance of an omnipotent conglomerate. For every user they “spy” on, they get roughly $12. Your interests, your relationships, your privacy, all gone for the price of $12.

Big data breaches are publicized beyond all limits, but they really happen all the time. But the more time you spend on the internet the higher the likelihood becomes that someone malicious will attain everything that you have. Say you don’t care about your personal relationships and preferences. You’re an open book anyways so there’s nothing to be afraid of. I guess you’re not scared to lose all your money, identity, and maybe even dignity. Your bank account can be more than easily accessed with the right amount of preliminary data. People can assume your identity at any time if they have a couple of id pictures you had sent a while back. Your house could be literally sold while you’re living in it without you knowing until the day of eviction. Those videos that were meant to be for you or people close to you? Public for the whole world to see. It happens all the time with celebrities that have more than enough money to bolster up their defenses. Why would you expect anything less from the average joe?

A toxic and co-dependent relationship; That’s what we’re in right now. Virtually everyone has and needs an email to survive in any modern occupation. You’re a social troglodyte if you don’t have social media. Go on about how “free” you are while being ostracised by the people around you. When you get down to it, all websites would be nothing without the users themselves. The internet needs us and we need it. Social media has become the abuser that says they don’t want to hurt others anymore; we have become the abused that continue to profess our blind love and hatred but still stay in a septic relationship.

-Juan Sixto

References:

https://sopa.tulane.edu/blog/key-social-media-privacy-issues-2020
https://www.webroot.com/us/en/resources/tips-articles/how-do-free-websites-make-money#:~:text=The%20way%20most%20’free’%20services,marketers%20and%20researchers%2C%20and%20others.&text=Your%20information%20helps%20companies%20provide,more%20targeted%20to%20your%20interests.
https://stockanalysis.com/how-facebook-makes-money/
https://www.webroot.com/us/en/resources/tips-articles/how-do-free-websites-make-money#:~:text=The%20way%20most%20’free’%20services,marketers%20and%20researchers%2C%20and%20others.&text=Your%20information%20helps%20companies%20provide,more%20targeted%20to%20your%20interests.
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/mar/11/facebook-users-reveal-intimate-secrets
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/mar/11/facebook-researchers-getting-to-know-you
https://www.paloaltonetworks.com/blog/2016/02/the-cybersecurity-canon-dragnet-nation/
https://www.democracynow.org/2014/3/11/read_dragnet_nation_a_quest_for
https://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-ca-jc-julia-angwin-20140309-story.html
https://slate.com/technology/2013/03/facebook-advertisement-studies-their-ads-are-more-like-tv-ads-than-google-ads.html
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2016/07/05/how-to-make-google-forget-your-most-embarrassing-searches/