Free Services Are for Suckers

free services internetJust a few weeks ago, it was revealed that the FBI will be going through a huge stack of emails they stole from a free service, to find some peaceful people they can publicly prosecute. The service was called Tor Mail…and their advertising slogan was Free Anonymous Email.

Supposedly, this system was ironclad and immune from government attacks. And, presumably, the operators would do this very hard thing, forever, and for free. That’s just not rational, regardless of the operator’s intentions.

Nonetheless, a small army of people signed up and used the service. It was free, after all!

Now, they are being burned, and maybe badly. That sucks, and they almost certainly don’t deserve it, but it was also rather predictable.

Free is for suckers. Always has been, still is. Jump at “free,” and you volunteer to pay the piper eventually.

Free Contributions Versus Free Services

There is a fundamental difference between free contributions and free services. Free contributions can be honest, important, and noble.

Phil Zimmerman gave us PGP, Tim Berners-Lee gave us HTTP, and Satoshi Nakamoto gave us crypto-currency. All of these were gifts, for which we should be grateful.

Operating a service, however, is something different:

  • The contribution – the gift – requires a specific and limited expense of time and passion.
  • A service requires daily work, most of it less than exciting. And there is no end to it.

Gifting something to the world is wonderful and deserves our gratitude. There’s nothing wrong with it. Nor is there a real problem with the shareware model, or with a free trial before buying, or the donations model.

Doing the daily grind that is necessary to run a service, however, is something very different. These are not acts of passion; they are acts of determination and endurance. Sure, there can be moments of passion, but an ongoing service requires far more than that. And, any service provider that can’t deal with “grind it out” work doesn’t survive.

The Free Service Game

Right now, free services rule the Internet. Yahoo, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram, and all the rest… their business model involves getting people to use their systems for free.

But if you use something for free, you are NOT the customer. These companies DO have customers who pay them money, but that’s not you… which means that you are the product!

Let’s not forget what Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg famously texted his friend:

Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard, just ask.

Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS

Friend: What? How’d you manage that one?

Zuck: People just submitted it. I don’t know why. They “trust me”

Zuck: Dumb f*cks

Anything you run through a free service goes beyond your control, immediately and permanently. These companies are monetizing your life, and the lives of your family and friends. Again, you are the product, and they’re selling you to anyone who will pay.

No one really runs a service for free.

The same thing goes for smartphone apps, by the way. They give them to you for free, or for almost free, and they also sell your life to anyone who will pay. The primary purpose of most apps is to spy on you. Read their privacy statements sometime.

“Nothing Bad Will Happen”

This is said every day, as it has been by more or less all the victims of history. I’m not for walking around in fear of course, but if you grab at “free” products, you are stepping into a trap.

If you don’t know the price in advance, you’ll be charged anyway (in this case, by having your life sold), and you’ll overpay.

And bad things do happen, as they did to Brandon Raub.

Is ‘saving’ a couple bucks really that big a deal?

Paul Rosenberg

9 thoughts on “Free Services Are for Suckers”

  1. Excellent post, who pays you? Also, I liked Hotmail much better when I paid a small monthly fee instead of being bombarded with ads as it is now.

    1. “who pays you?”

      My subscribers. These pages are my speeches in the public square. The more serious things go in the subscription newsletter, and for that, people have to pay. I have bills too, after all.

      Though some day when I retire from the newsletter, I may just gift the back issues to the general Internet.

  2. Paul, just curious, but what are your thoughts about paid premium services, for which there are also free versions, such as LinkedIn, Spotify, and others?

    1. Mixed feelings, really. I understand that they’re trying to make a living like the rest of us, but I very much dislike that they sell everyone’s personal info.

  3. so much for being free

    Lavabit and Thor are supposed to be used with no email tracking but this is unheard of

  4. I appreciate your service. If my memory serves, I believe you recently solicited a more complete or advanced service–for a price. I have no problem with that, but the conflation of that solicitation with this article is noted–at least by me.

    Your article provides good information. However, with my eyes wide open I use freeware all the time. With the advent of Creative Commons and open sources, the providers of various services on the Internet have discovered that offering something for free has many benefits, some of which don’t require taking advantage of the users and don’t depend on revenues from third-party sources. These providers of free services or products have discovered that the widespread distribution of one’s “free” product or service, made possible by the fact that it is free, makes the product or service so well known, and often so greatly appreciated, that the “good will” therein obtain is worth every cent of direct remuneration surrendered.

    Your warnings are worthwhile, but should not deter informed and intelligent Internet users from availing themselves of some freeware offerings.

    1. No, these pages are contributions. 😉 These pages are things that I’d say anyway.

      The main newsletter is for pay only, and that’s were I put the “hard to produce” work.

  5. Aside from the treachery of not living up to one’s commitment, this is “Life on Life’s terms.”

    For six months I’ve been giving away my talents to draw and maintain and grow an audience with the hope that they in turn will donate to help get The Boot-Strap Expat documentaries off the ground. Last time I checked I had a single, $50 donation which I celebrated with the essay about “…Priming The Pump.” While I offer perks worth far more than the donations, this donor chose to support our efforts anonymously and forego any perks. I haven’t found my Patrons and Matrons, quite yet.

    While my reader base has grown by over a factor of five in the last 90 days and I’ve been interviewed by Above Top Secret and got a great plug from Wendy McElroy at, I’ve only this single donation to put against Producing the Boot-Strap Expat Adventure. I haven’t found my Patrons and Matrons, but they will be found.

    They will come, but it’s the day-in-day out grind that wears on you.

    I’m producing products rather than providing services. Not that it matters. I’m sure TPTB could come up with a way to subvert my efforts should they chose, but I would be the only one in harm’s way.

    This adventure will come together, in its time because I’m willing to do what needs to be done.

    And I don’t have to break anyone’s trust.

    The Boot-Strap Expat

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