Budget buster_ the danger of accepting freebies _ stuff. co. nz

I love free stuff as much as the next person, but I’m under no illusions that it’s actually “free”.

If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer – you’re the product being sold. Mexican food in los angeles This is a bit creepy when you think about it. Best dinner restaurants in los angeles Scoring free drinks at the bar on ladies’ night? You’re not a customer; you’re a product on display, being used to attract men.

Television has been doing this since forever. Best inexpensive restaurants in chicago They gave us free shows to watch, and then sold our eyeballs to advertisers. Best cheap restaurants in chicago Most people were happy to make this trade-off, because the creep factor wasn’t so obvious.

Best affordable restaurants in chicago Sure, the morning cartoons ran ads for kids’ toys and Happy Meals, but the targeting was pretty broad.

Now we’ve crossed into a new era of mega-creepiness. Best lunch spots in new orleans Every day, we use services like Google and Facebook to search for information, message each other, post and store photos, write documents, and generally go about our online lives.

If Google is free to use, how on earth is it worth a stonking US$579 billion (NZ$806b)? How is Facebook worth US$392b, when none of us are paying Mr Zuckerberg a cent?

The answer, of course, is that we’re not the customers. Best food in new orleans We’re the product, and we’re being sold to marketers for megabucks.

The online giants know far more about you than any spy agency. Best chinese food in chicago Some of it you’ve volunteered, like your name, age, and phone number. Best chinese food in chicago chinatown But they also know where you are at any given point in time (“location services”), what websites you’re visiting, what products you’re buying, if you prefer rap or trance music, and probably whether you’re a scruncher or a folder.

Every time you ‘like’ something, post a comment, or upload a photo, it’s logged in the database and fed into the mighty algorithm. Best seafood in wildwood nj Instagram and WhatsApp are owned by Facebook, so they’re mining all your activity there, too.

It gets creepier. Best indian restaurants in chicago Facebook buys more info from brokers who collate data from government records, credit bureaus, subscription lists, and online shopping databases. Best seafood restaurants in new york city All of this is compiled and served up on a platter to advertisers, who can target incredibly specific demographics. Best cheap eats in chicago An ad pops up, and your impulse buying instinct is triggered. Best fast food places near me Ka-ching! The sale data is collected and logged, and the wheel keeps turning.

There are ways to destroy your online dossier, but they’re arcane and time-consuming. Best restaurants near times square It’s better to be proactive. Best seafood in miami beach Browsing in Incognito or Private mode helps, as does being careful about what you choose to share.

If you’re not paying for something with cash, you’re paying with your privacy. Soul food restaurants in new york You might be happy to make that trade-off, but you better be aware of it.

Physical freebies also come with strings attached. Soul food restaurants in newark nj I avoid the free samples in the supermarket, because I can’t return the empty toothpick to the plate and walk away from the salesperson without feeling a pang of guilt or embarrassment.

This is because doing so violates the rule of reciprocity, a hard-wired social norm from our tribal past. How to get free food from restaurants Naturally, marketers have learned how to exploit this. Fast food restaurants delivery As soon as we get something for free, we feel an obligation. Fast food restaurants near my current location The instinct is so powerful that it works even when the ‘gift’ is uninvited, or it’s something we don’t enjoy.

I recently visited a tourist spot which makes a point of being ‘free’. Seafood restaurants near my location Immediately I was handed a glass of juice by the generous landowner, and waved through the gates. Best seafood restaurants in san francisco After returning from the underwhelming ‘attraction’, I had to run the gauntlet past the still-smiling operator manning the donation box. Best mexican food restaurants Sure enough, I stuffed in far more than I would have paid if it was an openly commercial relationship.

Salespeople were exploiting the reciprocity rule long before social scientists came up with a name for it. Best soul food restaurants Back in the day, United States saloons used to offer ‘free’ food to anyone who bought a drink. Best seafood restaurants in los angeles The meal was salty – ham, nuts, salted crackers – which meant the punters would always buy more beer. Best seafood restaurants on long island This was a genius double-barrelled sales strategy, using the patrons’ psychology and physiology against them.

It also led to a famous saying that’s never been more relevant today: There really ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

Got a money question? Email Budget Buster at richard.meadows@thedeepdish.org, or hit him up on Twitter at @MeadowsRichard. Seafood restaurants in the area You can also find links to previous Budget Busters here.

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