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Most users assume that their use of Internet services is implicitly private and anonymous, so it can be quite eye-opening to find out how much about ourselves and our companies we reveal by seemingly innocuous words we use to search, the maps we view, and the other "free" services we use on the Internet. The Internet has become one of the most central aspects of our world, and we react to both the mundane and important events in our personal and professional lives by turning to it. Unfortunately, these events, great or small, continue to exist for an indeterminately long time period on the service providers' servers. Providers of free Web-based applications aren't simply offering their tools as a public service. However altruistic they might be in some regards, these companies have legal obligations to their shareholders to make profits. Although various business models exist for advertising in connection with "free" services, the consistent bottom line is that Web-based companies depend on being able to convince advertisers that it's worth their money to have their ads presented on Web pages and emails. Free Web-based services aren't really free: users pay for them with micropayments of information that add up to a significant sum.
Date of Publication: May-June 2007