Free Is Bad
Almost everything we consume online is free. Email, search, news, entertainment. But those apps on our phones aren’t really free—so if we’re not paying, who is?
The surveillance marketing industry is.
We give them our personal data and let them chase us around the web with ads. In exchange we get cat memes, news and constant updates from our friends.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Web pioneers tried to build a system where consumers paid creators. Early developers desperately tried to build businesses that ran on sales. Believe it or not, Google’s founders were dead set against advertising—for fear it would compromise the quality of their own search results.
Yet here we are. Why?
Because of the misguided belief that, “Information wants to be free,” which is codified deep in human DNA. It started way back in the early days of the republic, evolved with newspapers, radio and broadcast TV, and persists today online.
Be the customer, not the product.
In Free Is Bad, digital marketing entrepreneur John Marshall explores the web industry’s early history and its search for viable business models. It’s an investigation of how an evolutionary accident in the design of the web resulted in the ad-tech industry, enabling “free” as the default model for technology products like search and email, and for media products like news and entertainment.
He examines how this made us into the product being bought and sold in the marketplace, and why that hurts the quality of our information and discourse. And he offers a hopeful overview of how the web is slowly clawing its way back to respectability through new, people-first business models.
Free Is Bad also serves as a guide to how, in the meantime, we can modify our behavior online right now, to better protect ourselves and our privacy. It reimagines our relationship with quality online services, media, and information: A relationship that makes us the customer, not the product.
It’s not codified in the conviction that, “Information wants to be free.” It’s rooted in a new belief.
The belief that Free Is Bad.