As a digital society, we live in an instant reality. If I want it, I can have it. Now. Want knowledge? Google it. Want to buy it? Go to Amazon. Can’t afford it? Get an instant approval credit card. Want to watch it? Go to YouTube, or Netflix etc. Give it to me now, give it to me fast and ideally, for free. The concept of the Cost of Free is one explored by a program televised by the BBC, Virtual Revolution.
What is the cost?
Most internet users rarely give any thought to the concept of their digital footprint, or the trail left as life goes on as a Digital Dependant. These footprints are in fact what is paying for our access to a world of free information. Personal data is “tracked, traced and traded” (Virtual Revolution Episode 2). It is mined for information that will tell companies what individual users are interested in buying, reading, watching etc. This seems like an excellent idea! How helpful! What is the problem with sending targeted advertising for products that are guaranteed to interest the viewer? Forcing viewers to sit through advertising that is uninteresting is a sure way to have them change the channel, or click straight out of whatever digital viewing platform being used. It makes sense to utilize the data gained from tracing digital footprints to target advertising – both from a producer and consumer point of view.
Thinking more critically about the data being tracked and monetized, can be a little more thought provoking. The video “Four reasons to care about your digital footprint” is eye opening. Considering the benefits of the Internet, there is little that would convince anyone to be completely cut off from that digital world, it has far too much to offer. This video outlines that the cost of free, user data, can actually end up costing consumers, in real financial terms. Taking that fact into consideration may make users think twice about the real Cost of Free. One example in the video related to insurance premiums. If an insurance company buys your search engine data, and you had searched ‘how to get out of a speeding ticket’, this could increase your premium. The above mentioned video may prompt you to think of concepts you have not yet considered, head over and watch, it is very worthwhile.
Another cost for this free instant access to information, is having your interests, opinion, or point of view manipulated by censoring and selective provision of information, all depending on how your digital footprint is interpreted. Dynamic lists, for example those created by Netflix and YouTube ,”Recommended for you”, and Amazon “Customers like you”, are created from the footprints left by the user. As outlined in the program mentioned above, (Virtual Revolution) users become more stereo-typically like themselves, essentially allowing themselves to be pigeon-holed into a demographic stereotype for commercial purposes. The polarisation of opinions through the propaganda and misinformation disseminated by social media is another in-depth topic.
There are steps that users can take to mask their footprints and leave no trace. Being savvy and cognisant of the pigeon-holing consequences of your browsing history can help in the fight to shake off the shackles of data interpreting bots that attempt to direct your attention.
For a Matrix Parody on the ‘Terrifying Cost of Free’ check out this video:
The Terrifying Cost of Free