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The Price of Free: Freedom

There's no shortage of free stuff on the Web. Mail is free, search is free, YouTube is free and, if you don't mind breaking copyright laws, premium movies and music are free as well.

But all this comes with a cost. If you are a pirate, the music and movie companies may come after you. And the fines are stiff than a Dean Martin cocktail.

There's also the hidden cost of free services. FaceBook seems friendly on the surface, and it sure is making a lot of lucky folks filthy rich. But when you sign up, you surrender control of your data -- which has been sold to third-party marketers. And the newest Facebook feature lets friends (and parents and bosses) track your every single little move. Like a neck tattoo, this never really goes away.

Google is one of the worst offenders. They parse Gmail for key words, then sell you to advertisers (is that why I'm getting all those weight loss banners?), and the new social media tool Google+ collects even more. Under Google's new policy, all information from all your Google services is pulled together, letting the company know more about you than family or friends possibly do.

Free comes with a price. If you sign up for free services, understand exactly what you are surrendering. It may be details of your life.

Is a lack of privacy simply the price to pay for free software and social connections or are we a bunch of dupes? You tell me at

Posted by Doug Barney on 03/02/2012 at 9:03 AM

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Reader Comments:

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 David Rhode Island

Your article is not being clear perhaps for a reason. FREE can be good without giving up privacy. HOW about OPEN OFFICE and other such suites? I think you are trying to set up a reason for purchasing software since it may protect your privacy better... BUT, I do not think your article is fair to all free software out there. Some of it is genuinely free.

Sat, Mar 3, 2012 david pate mobile, al

what is the point. We all know that. I suspect you are trying to take a backhand slap at FOSS such as linux. Invalid

Sat, Mar 3, 2012 ibsteve2u Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

That targeted advertising...I now wish that instead of spending so much time searching for words like "CMP_WaitNoPendingInstallEvents" and phrases like "Are there any honest Republicans", I would have salted my searches with "nude images nubile female with brains". I still wouldn't click on them, but the resulting banner ads might liven up my web experience.

Fri, Mar 2, 2012 Dan Iowa

Interesting, Doug, not one mention of the word cloud in your article. Might I suggest an alternative title: "The Price of the Public Cloud"

Fri, Mar 2, 2012

Are we not also selling out the privacy of the people that communicate with us?

Fri, Mar 2, 2012 Roy Gottlieb Brooklyn, NY

I think it funny that surrounding your story on the costs of 'free' are two offers for free whitepapers, a free webinar for IT pros, and a couple of offers for free technical magazine subscriptions. Free is everywhere. Respond to a 'free' offer only opens you up to a deluge of phone calls from vendors. That's too high a cost for me.

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