How you pay for Google's and Facebook's 'free' services.

Google and Facebook have become the major players on the web, but their business model is harmful to individuals and society.

Google and Facebook have become two of the most successful web companies because they have managed to convince everyone that their products do not come at any cost. Yet, this is not true. The ad-based business model harms people and societies on so many levels, it must end now - and you can help end it.

The web - for free?

Google and Facebook both make one great promise to their users: Use their services and everything is free. However, this is not true. We all know that Google and Facebook make their money by selling advertisements. In fact, lots of advertisements. In 2020 alone, Google's ad revenue amounted to 146.92 billion US dollars.

Who pays for Google and Facebook to be free?

The question is: Who pays for Google and Facebook to be free? The long answer is that companies pay Google and Facebook so that they display the companies' ads directed at you. After all, Google and Facebook together capture over half of the internet's ad sales market globally. Ultimately, however, you - the users - are the ones that click the ads and that buy the products advertised.

So the short answer is: You pay Google and Facebook to be free.

Loss of privacy

What is more, to optimize their ad-based business models, Google and Facebook track you across the web, build a profile about you, thus, abusing your private data to post the ads that most likely make you click. While Google and Facebook like to present themselves as the the new defenders of privacy, the opposite is true. The privacy-intrusive way of posting targeted advertisements will not only lead to an increased profit for Google and Facebook, it also influences your purchasing decisions and makes you buy overpriced products.

This business model has recently been described as surveillance capitalism, which sums up what Google are Facebook are doing pretty nicely.

Broken business model

As more and more people understand how problematic the ad-based business model is, they start to fight back: The rise of ad-blockers is a strong sign that people do not want their data abused by advertisers. This movement is constantly getting larger and starting to cause problems to the ad industry.

For example, even as the value of the digital ad industry continues to rise, the average click-through rate on Google's display ads fell to 0.46% in 2018. This suggests that the ads being sold are not effective, nor are they wanted by the website visitors. Possibly these are the first signs that the ad-based business model is coming to an end.

Additionally, Google is facing antitrust lawsuits for abusing its monopolistic power in the online ad industry.

It is no secret that companies pay Google for Google Ads even, for instance, when the organic search is yielding good results. After all, paid ads are displayed at the top taking away traffic from the organic search.

Instead of relying on Google search, we need a European search index.

Harmful algorithms

On top of that, the algorithms that make Google and Facebook so successful when sellings ads increasingly harm society.

Being in a social bubble strengthens extremist views, also because of the algorithms used by Google and Facebook. Basically, what the algorithm does is it displays similar content to what people have viewed or liked before. To keep the attention span at a maximum - which makes people stay on the platform longer, which in turn enables the platform to show more ads - suggested content needs to get a bit more extreme constantly.

This isn’t exactly surprising; consider the old journalistic mantra "If it bleeds, it leads". An algorithm that prioritizes keeping users engaged might therefore prioritize content that gets people angry or that tells people what they want to hear, even if it's false. Facebook's own internal review concluded, for example, that "64% of all extremist group joins are due to [Facebook's] recommendation tools".

These algorithms increasingly harm our societies and can even be used to undermine democracy.

Install an ad-blocker

All things considered, only the platforms - Google and Facebook - benefit from the ad-based business model while harming individuals as well as societies.

The best way you as a user can stop the ad-based business is by installing an ad-blocker. By now, there are dozens of ad-blockers to choose from, here is just a selection:

  • AdBlock Plus (Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Opera, Safari, Android, iOS)
  • AdBlock (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge)
  • Poper Blocker (Chrome)
  • Stands Fair AdBlocker (Chrome)
  • uBlock Origin (Chrome, Firefox)
  • Ghostery (Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Edge)
  • AdGuard (Windows, Mac, Android, iOS)
  • Blokada (Android, available on F-Droid)

The only way we can stop the ad-based business model is by refusing to click any ads. In addition, you may want to check out these privacy-friendly alternatives to Google and Facebook.

While we at Tutanota also offer a free email service, we recommend to our users to upgrade to the paid version when they can afford to. Your support enables us to offer a truly privacy-friendly alternative, guaranteed without ads. Together we can stop the privacy-intrusive surveillance capitalism.