Nothing is ever free, especially on the internet.
Internet companies collect data about you — what sites you visit, what you buy, what demographic you fit into — in exchange for “free” use of their products, like Google’s Gmail and Maps or Facebook and Instagram. They use that data in part to make your experience on those platforms better, but also to target you with ads, which pays the bills and then some.
The problem is that consumers don’t usually know the extent of the data collected about them, nor do they know how exactly that data is used, where it ends up, or if it’s protected. Sometimes this data gets hacked or is used for more nefarious purposes than advertising. Google’s Chrome is basically a surveillance tool for the search giant as well as innumerable outside data firms, according to the Washington Post. Facebook is currently being sued for failing to protect the login and contact info for 30 million users. And that’s on top of the Cambridge Analytica debacle that renewed concerns about what tech companies are doing with their users’ data.
That’s why two senators from both sides of the aisle, Mark Warner (D-VA) and Josh Hawley (R-MO), pitched a bill Monday that would require companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon to disclose how much your data is worth.
That made us think about how much of the internet — and the products and content we consume on it — are paid for by advertising, which advertisers will pay more for if it’s backed by data that tells them who they’re reaching. If tech companies didn’t have advertising, they would have less incentive to collect our data so extensively. But then they’d have to find other ways to make money, which means they’d likely charge us to use their services.
How much exactly? This is a rough calculation, but it offers a glimpse at how the internet’s biggest platforms could maybe, theoretically, function without almost completely sustaining themselves with our personal data.
US digital media owners — a company that sells advertising space or time online to advertisers, such as Facebook, Google, and publications like Vox — are expected to receive $106 billion in ad spending this year,