Most people in the industrialized world don’t realize that their exposure to advertising is also paying for bandwidth for millions of people in poorer areas.
Companies like Google and Facebook make deals with local carriers around the world in which the companies pick up the tab for access when people are using their services.
One recent example is that Google announced a deal with a carrier called Airtel in India called Freezone in which users (who normally pay by the minute for data) are not charged for minutes while they are accessing Google Search, Google+ and Gmail.
Companies like Google aren’t doing this for charity. They’re hoping to find targets for advertisers in these local economies, and probably also to create wealth so people become bigger buyers.
Programs like this exist throughout Asia and Africa and provide people who live on a few dollars a day with life-transforming services at zero cost.
No, there’s no free lunch. This service is paid for ultimately by people who buy stuff based on online ads.
The most extreme way to contrast ad-supported vs paid is to compare Google+ (Although Google+ has no advertising, it’s ultimately paid for by advertising on other Google services) with App.net (a subscription-based social network).
They’re both social networks. Google provides a massive social good by bringing a valuable social network to the world’s poor; App.net excludes the world’s poor, providing its best benefits only for the rich.
Yes, App.net has a free tier now. But you can follow only 40 users and data is capped. App.net’s $5 per month or $36 per month is far beyond the reach of the majority of people, many of whom are living on a few dollars per day. So if you’re poor, you can join App.net, but must remain a second-class citizen on that network.
The other great trend in advertiser-supported online services is that they’re getting more relevant. The major companies are harvesting personal data and context and increasingly serving up ads for things we really want to buy.
In other words, they’re finding out what we really want, rather than trying to manipulate us into wanting the things we don’t want.
For people concerned about privacy, there are ways to keep personal data private and get less-relevant advertising. And it’s also possible to block ads. Either way, the ads are paying the bills for everybody.
As technology moves forward and Moore’s Law makes things cheaper, I would love to see far more products available through advertiser-supported monetization.
For example, there’s no reason why computers, laptops, tablets and mobile phones might become ad-supported.
And when the online information and communication services are “free,” the bandwidth is “free” and the hardware is “free,” millions of people around the world will be able to start a business, get information, stay in touch with family, educate themselves and do other things and all without paying a dime.
Of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But thanks to advertising, we can chip away at the global digital divide and help put food on the table for millions of people around the world by simply buying stuff we want to buy.
Advertising is the morally superior form of monetization because it’s inclusive, it transfers wealth from rich to poor and it does all this without forced taxation or real sacrifice on the part of anyone.
And that idea shouldn’t be such a hard sell.