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It is an old saying that nothing in this world is free. But this ancient wisdom stands falsely against the new free messaging apps. Or does it really?

Last year, the EU started looking at privacy issues surrounding WhatsApp’s plan to share user information with Facebook. This started because WhatsApp changed its privacy policy under which, existing users have 30 days to agree to the new sharing, but can as part of that process opt out of letting Facebook use the data for marketing purposes. That requirement goes against a 2012 FTC consent order that demands the company use an “opt-in” process when changing its privacy policy.

In 2014, Facebook bought WhatsApp for 19 Billion USD. Why do you think they paid that amount for an app that is “free” or doesn’t deliver an ROI? Your personal information is worth billions to advertisers and data brokers. Many corporations would pay to study your online behaviour, just like scientists study animal behaviour in different habitats.

These days, a lot of firms have started buying people’s social media and shopping activity data. They process it so marketing companies can use it. It has become a legit business. While it is unknown ‘just how much’ such a company would pay for one’s information, it merely illustrates the fact that your personal information does have a value.

“The market for one’s personal data is already a burgeoning business, and we see no signs that it will dissipate. As long as consumers are willing to trade their personal information for access to seemingly free services such as WhatsApp and Viber, this market will continue to grow,” says Michael Ginsberg, CEO of Echoworx. “But at what cost to personal privacy? Individuals must start seeing their personal data as currency.”

People trade their data every day for free stuff, without thinking about what happens to their “dear diary” once they hand it over. Most people don’t even bother to know what personal data they are ‘trading’ away when they click ‘accept’ on an app’s terms and conditions. And is such a trade worth it?

Ginsberg believes that we have been “selling” ourselves for a long time – and for very cheap. “From my perspective, people are furiously overpaying for most of the today’s apps.”

The online ad industry is doubling and tripling with each passing day. Last year the industry reached its highest level of investment at over $72 billion. Social media ad revenue alone increased to $16.3 billion from $11 billion in 2015. But it looks like, as long as the next bus is on time, no one cares. People have lost perspective of ‘their worth’ to the advertisers by a huge margin. It is essential for people to be aware what information they are sharing before signing up for allegedly free apps. They need to know their privacy rights and protect them. The need is urgent. The need is now.

By Suneet Kaur Lamba, Marketing & Social Media, Echoworx