- Free apps and services can save you money up front, but they can still be expensive.
- Watch out for services that require upgrades to use all features, and read the terms and conditions to keep your data safe.
- Consider the cost of “free” apps with the same care as paid ones.
In an economic environment where it seems you can get nickel-and-dimed around every corner, many people are looking for free alternatives to their favorite apps and services.
But just because an app is advertised as free doesn’t mean there’s no charge.
Even services that don’t charge users an upfront price have to make money somehow, and they usually do it by selling users’ data, tempting them with add-ons or upgrade or use black patterns to trick you into spending money.
The truth is, if you want to protect your personal information and your wallet, you should be careful with free apps like paid ones.
Costs to Find in “Free” Applications and Services
“A lot of free apps still make money, but our costs are hidden,” James DeLapa, director of digital marketing at Wrike, said in an email.
Companies need to make money, so if they’re not charging a flat rate for their services, they’re likely going to do it some other way.
It may charge other companies for affiliate links or ad revenue, or it may mine your data and sell it to third parties, among other tricks for bringing revenue from a ” free” app.
In particular, watch out for these three “costs” associated with free services.
1. Data Collection
Almost every app you sign up for is collecting some kind of data on its users, but that data isn’t always what you expect. And the company may even sell your data to other interested parties for profit.
“Companies can collect your data and sell it to marketers who use it to target you in more attractive ways. If they know how you browse, where you go, what what you buy and who you talk to, they have everything they need to target messages that tempt you to buy,” DeLapa said.
Your personal information is valuable, and you should be careful about who you share it with. Not only do you want to avoid having your data sold to third parties, you need to make sure you can trust the security of your data in the hands of the service you’ve signed up for.
“If these companies are breached or your data is sold to a malicious actor, you could become a victim of cyberfraud or identity theft. And while we can’t eliminate the potential for it to happen completely, we can reduce that threat by avoiding those free apps made by companies that don’t take information privacy seriously,” advises DeLapa.
2. Upgrades and Add-Ons
Sometimes you sign up for an app thinking it’s free, to meet the costs to unlock more of its features or frequent ads that encourage you to upgrade to premium services. These can be in-app purchases or even a monthly cost to use many of the features you see advertised.
“These types of free services tend to be very deceptive because it’s easy to start seeing the convenience of an upgraded version as a necessity once you use the app or service is always, and the low monthly cost will be enough to attract more people. in,” Carter Seuthe, CEO of Credit Summit, said in an email.
Not only can you be tricked into spending money you didn’t expect on a one-time upgrade, but signing up for these subscription-based services can set you up for a monthly fee that waste of money in the long run.
“A lot of subscription models apps and services rely on you not getting your money’s worth out of the app, and then they rely on you not canceling the subscription when you’re not using it anymore,” Seuthe said.
3. Dark Patterns
Hard cancellation of subscriptions is an example of what is known as a dark pattern – or a design tactic used by a website or app to force users to spend.
Some dark patterns can cost you money on seemingly “free” platforms as well.
One such pattern is a bait-and-switch, where the app entices you with certain features only to reveal after you sign up that those are only available at a cost. There are also design elements that trick users into signing up for more expensive plans, even when there are free ones.
Evaluate Every Service You Use, Regardless of Price
You might think you’re sticking to a tight budget just by avoiding paid apps and services, but these hidden costs show that true financial and data health requires you to be careful even when you sign up. for “free” apps or services.
Follow these best practices to keep your money and data safe:
- Read the terms and conditions. It will tell you what data is available for retrieval, so you can decide if it’s something you want to share.
- Evaluate subscriptions regularly. This will help you avoid getting sucked into a monthly expense or upgrade that doesn’t give you any value.
- Watch out for black patterns. Also, use conscious purchasing strategies such as thinking about purchases within 24 hours to avoid being caught in these scams.
- Research services before you sign up. This way, when you entrust your data, you can be sure that it is with an organization you trust.
Free apps can save you money, but you have to consider the potential trade-offs.