Data Privacy: How Much is too Much to Share for 'Free'?


2 min read

Data Privacy: How Much is too Much to Share for 'Free'?

There's an excellent quote that I've always been a fan of:

When something online is free, you're not the customer, you're the product.

This sentiment has always deeply resonated with me and has often deterred me from sharing information online, even on platforms that are considered private.

However, views on what qualifies as sensitive data differ from person to person. I wonder, I wonder, which type of data makes a free service lose its allure?

From my perspective, most personal data should be treated as sensitive. If I'm considering a service that primarily handles personal information in the cloud, I'd only opt for it if it operates on a viable and transparent business model (i.e., not a free service) and ensures end-to-end encryption.

Without such a model—which admittedly might trade off some features for increased security—the potential dangers associated with various data forms become magnified in the face of breaches or leaks. Your exposed financial data paints a target on your back. An online diary brimming with intimate thoughts and insights into your mental health is a recipe for disaster. Furthermore, as AI continues its upward trajectory, heightening our reservations about both sharing and privately archiving photos or videos online is long overdue.

Even data we might dismiss as "trivial" can have profound consequences when leaked or pooled together. The digital landscape is rife with tales of social engineering exploits, price discrimination, identity theft, financial fraud, ransomware, and more.

Yet, the "free-of-charge" aspect of many services remains alluring. Some services are sometimes just nice to have and do not justify a fee. The question to me becomes: When does privacy justify that fee?