Three weeks ago, Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, told an audience in Brussels that tech companies have carefully assembled, synthesized, traded, sold and “weaponized” their user’s data to enrich companies that collect them. This zero-price model that is being used by businesses is actually the source of the many issues that are now plaguing the internet.
It is not a coincidence that Google, Facebook and Twitter are generating more than 80% of their revenues from advertising. These sites are frequently accused of the propagation of toxic content and compromise of privacy. On the other hand, Microsoft and Apple generate their revenues from selling software, hardware service but fly under the radar.
The zero-price business model comes in many forms online. For example, Wikipedia is considered as labor of love. Other companies offer a free entry-level product but they will eventually sell it for a premium later on. Free is essential to the profit model of search and social media. In order to generate ads, they have to maximize on users and engagement that result to the lowest possible barriers to their platform. They have to learn as much as possible about their users to create targeted ads.
However, free is not essentially free because users have to pay for attention and data. Users are exposed to lots of useless and sometimes harmful content. Senders and recipients of emails do not pay for postage but they have to spent time in deleting unwanted or spam messages.
In the online world where communication is cheap and free, there are many instances when bad communication beats good communication. For example, fake and paid reviews intermingle with free product advice provided by businesses on their web sites. Fake and manipulative news usually contaminates free news feeds.
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