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Back in 2006, I joined Facebook because MySpace sucked. The page was cleaner then. The goal was straight-forward. I could easily find old friends without paying a fee.

This was still early days for internet businesses. We were surrounded by free services. Google = free. YouTube = free. Yelp, Blogger, Shockwave = free, Free, FREE.

We were years before a friend at a happy hour would tell us “if it’s free you are the product.” Even then, it was a couple more years before we understood what that meant. For many of us, we still don’t.

“Free” now means the company is collecting data on us, analyzing it, and selling it (or access to it). So a free app you install to play a game on your phone suddenly wants access to your contact list. If you’re one of the few people to stop and think about it, you realize that you should be able to play the game without granting that access. If you deny the app permission to use your contact list, you won’t get to play the game.

In the end, it probably doesn’t matter. Your friends played the game and provided their contact lists. So they already know about you and your social network. To be truly private in this scenario, everyone needs to opt-out.

This is the business model of Facebook and Google and Amazon and a million other smaller companies who use “free” as a lure to gather data about us and, more creepily, about our children.