When something is free, pretend you paid for it

Chris Brogan lost all access to his Google accounts today. He can’t check his email, his calendar or even use his Android phone.

We need to learn how to evaluate free products.

When we pay for something, we tend to read the terms and conditions, make sure there’s support, compare it to other alternatives, etc. When it’s free, we go “oh, cool, thanks.”

But free web services aren’t like free pizza. You come to depend on them and you give them your data and control of your life. Shouldn’t you know what agreement you have with them?

From Google’s Terms of Service:

4.3 […] you acknowledge and agree that Google may stop (permanently or temporarily) providing the Services (or any features within the Services) to you or to users generally at Google’s sole discretion, without prior notice to you. […]

I think the responsibility lies with users to evaluate the terms of the software they are using. Google provides a lot of great services. It’s up to us to figure out how best to use them and to demand better terms if we want them.

So when you sign up for a free web service, pretend you are paying for it. Read the terms. Raise your concerns.

Disclaimer: I use a lot of Google services and in general I’m quite happy with them.

7 Replies to “When something is free, pretend you paid for it”

  1. But aren’t you paying for them already? You give Google very sensitive data, insight in your behaviour and generate revenue by viewing and clicking advertisements they show to you on their pages.
    That is a way of paying companies on the internet that is getting more and more popular and I do think we should think of it as it is: a transaction, you give data or attention and get a service in return.

    1. I agree – we are most definitely paying. We just don’t think of it as paying since it’s not money. We need to start thinking of it as paying.

  2. Nobody forced Google to offer services for free (no cost).

    It really doesn’t matter, by law they have a responsibility to their customers, paying or not. Clearly in this case they failed. Now imagined when they start their GoogleOS where everything is in the “cloud”. A screw up like this and your whole life is gone.

    Even if you do not pay they are making money of you.

    Google isn’t making the billions of their pay for services.

    1. What responsibility do they have to their users? The terms clearly state that they can terminate your service at any time.

  3. Perfectly correct, could not say this better myself,even with purchased software some people ignore the TOS and EULA, ignorance is no excuse for privacy compromise or data loss i must say to them,

    On a side note,what would happen to one’s data in the clouds if one should die unexpectedly? This is something I have always thought of but never really came up with any good answers.

    Giving a trusted family member your logon credentials and willing the data over to them may work.

    This would mean documenting your data and the information to access it in a book of some sort that could be placed in a well secured place only to be opened by the person or persons you willed your data to.

  4. Another reason why I’m looking forward into stuff like ownCloud ( http://owncloud.org ) as this will enable tech users to take care of their own data.

    I’m already running my own groupware servers etc but ownCloud will take this to a new level.


    People look at me like a crazyperson when I talk about why I go out-of-my-way to rely on Google services. You’ve illustrated perfectly WHY I do this.

    I learned the hard way. I lost access to my Google account in the middle of a semester at grad school in 2004. I had my university account forwarding to my gmail address and all my old messages, papers and research data I’d sent that I didn’t have saved locally… completely inaccessible, for a week in the middle of the semester. Google did not help – I struggled to even find contact information to alert Google of the issue, and never received anything but auto-reply mails to my pleas for help.

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