Updated: Nov 30, 2020
Everyone has the right to know the truth about free apps.
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? In this post, I will examine the real motivation behind one of the most intriguing industries of our time: the attention industry. But first, let's dig into some history.
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. It is crucial to understand that commodities tend to have a lower aggregated value than industrial products and services. Still, 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 didn't have 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. Companies began to turn into huge enterprises that aimed at sky-high profits, which would lead to huge growth. The rise of the Internet and the increase in computer processing power created the perfect scenario for retrieving information from millions of individuals. The Internet became the way to get as much information as possible from users by sending thousands of unsolicited emails asking for personal data without user consent. These messages became known as SPAM. Simultaneously, marketing departments worldwide started creating websites with lots of pop-up windows, also requesting personal data. This practice annoyed so many users that pop-up blockers were invented. The feature still exists today in many browsers.
After many years, this became 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 twenty-first century, social networks and smartphones became increasingly popular. Some characteristics of these two technologies created an exciting opportunity for marketing professionals. First, adverts could be easily inserted into apps and social network webpages to help fund the business. Secondly, the business model supported last-minute changes and allowed an extensive number of users as a target, reaching millions of users anywhere where the Internet was available. Finally, the most crucial feature was exploiting the human mind and driving people to disclose personal data that could be analyzed to reveal 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. The "I only believe in God and data" become the trend. The truth is, the so-called "big data" - a new way of processing enormous amounts of data - amazed many CEOs on how they could explore it to make even more money for the company, so they could then successfully convince company's investors to raise their CEO annual revenues to the stratosphere.
On the other edge, Internet users. Data producers are treated as commodities, happy users of freeware. But wait. If you take a close look into the terms of service you agree to when signing up for a service or download an app, you understand that you are allowed to use their service or product because you are paying them back with valuable data. Your personal data.
Switching Back to Payware (Or Not)
Users need to take into consideration what is worth their attention and personal data. What are they getting in return? How important are your privacy and your time?