The “Power of Free” and the price you pay for it

power of freeEveryone loves freebies. Be it a giveaway from your favourite store or website, free services or software such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or a free tasting at your local supermarket. However, if you don’t have to pay for it with your hard-earned money – you most certainly will in a different way. With your digital privacy.

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Have you ever wondered why Facebook was showing you advertising from local tyre shops just after you had performed a Google search on tyres? That is anything but a coincidence. Digital platforms such as Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook and the likes are only able to provide their services for free because they make money elsewhere – by collecting and marketing your data.

What information is of value?

The answer is easy. Everything. Names, contact and credit card details, browsing history, pictures, friends, devices. The list is endless. Anything you share on the World Wide Web can and most likely will be used in some form or other to make money. Your search history, for example, can reveal a great deal about your relationship status, your deepest desires, career choices, illnesses and where you are planning on spending your next holiday.

What happens with my data?

Most of the time, your data is being traded to create personalized ad experiences targeted to meet your individual needs. In fact, every single click on the internet starts an international auction for your details in a race to provide you with the most suitable advertisement. In New Zealand, customers are protected by the new Privacy Act. However, while it outlines companies’ responsibilities to protect client data, it cannot prevent security breaches from happening.

Where do I find my data?

It is your right to view and access any data you have entered at any given time. If you want to take a deeper look into what kind of data each of your free service providers has stored about you, there are several ways to go about this. Most browsers will let you download or archive your browsing history. Social media platforms such as Facebook often have specific tools that allow you to access and download your data.

How safe are offline giveaways?

New Zealanders love supermarket giveaways. Whether New World offers knives or Little Garden planting pots, or Countdown is running a promotion with Disney tiles or Super Animals. Kiwis are usually so keen to get their hands on these that extra trading events have to be held to keep up with the hype. While the rewards are technically free, you usually end up spending a lot more money on groceries than you normally would. Again, “free” means that you are putting more money into someone else’s pocket.

Furthermore, many offline giveaways require you to give away your data. Every time you enter a competition at a physical store, shop or supermarket, you are being asked to sign up to an email list, newsletter or member rewards program and provide your phone number in order to contact you in case you are the winner. Once again, you will end up in someone’s database.

How can I protect my data?

The safest way to keep your digital privacy safe is by not sharing anything. Which, for most of us, is simply impossible. Every time you visit a website, operators are able to pin down your location, gain information about your device and install advertising cookies. To limit the amount of data you make public, the most important thing is to think about what you really have to share in order to use a service and whether using that service for free is worth paying the price.

Read the fine print

A company’s Terms & Conditions outline what happens when you choose to use their products or services. But there is a reason why especially privacy statements tend to be several pages long and written in jargon that will make your head spin. Nobody really wants you to know what data is being collected, how it is used and how long it will be stored for. For example, Facebook reserves the right to store specific data even after you have deleted your account. Make sure what you sign up for before you do.


For any data other than what is absolutely required to provide you with the agreed services, there should be an opt-out option. It might take some time to find it, but that is your best bet in order to keep your data safe. Turn off things like location tracking unless you absolutely need it, opt-out of targeted advertising, view and edit your privacy settings and preferences on a regular basis and update your public profiles to ensure you are only sharing what you are comfortable with at any given time.

Surf incognito

Alternatively, choose to surf the internet anonymously. This should prevent any website you access from identifying your IP address as well as other relevant personal information. Surfing incognito means an anonymizer acts as a middleman between you and the web, meaning the only data that is being retrieved is that of the server in between.

However, because some of those middle-man-servers still allow websites to place cookies on your computer, you could potentially be identified especially if you are using the same browser for regular and incognito browsing activities. One way to avoid that is by installing two separate browsers – one for everyday surfing and the other for anything you want to keep anonymous.

In general, regularly clearing and deleting your browsing history, cookies and cache will help avoid data remaining on servers. You can also hide your IP address by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). There are free and premium services available, basically blocking your identity from any third-party website.

The bottom line is: If it’s free, YOU are the product!

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If you would like help with digital marketing for your business, contact the friendly team at Energise Web today.


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