The True Cost of Freemium

When is the last time you paid for an app on your phone? It has most likely been a while because most apps are free now, and within minutes, or even seconds, you have access to any service you might need for no initial cost to you. The question is, though, are these apps really free? Your iTunes or Google Play account balance would say yes, but there are often more ways to pay for a product or service than money.

Freemium is a combination of the words “free” and “premium” used to describe a business model that offers both free and premium services. The freemium business model works by offering simple and basic services for free for the user to try, and then adds more advanced or additional features at a premium. This, in and of itself, can be misleading, but this model can also put you and your family at risk.

So, if freemium apps and services can be dangerous and can compromise important information, why are most apps (even the good ones) now free? Well, to start, there are so few ways that independent developers can get funding for their ideas that they end up having to partner with larger corps to mine data (that we unknowingly give them through permissions while using their apps). Another reason is that people won’t pay for a quality app when they could download a similar app for free, even if it does compromise their security. Safe apps couldn’t beat the freemium app trend, so they had to join it.

According to a study conducted in 2017, the average person has 60-90 apps installed on their phone, using around 30 of them each month and launching 9 per day. Although these apps are free upfront, the in-app purchase of an extra $0.99 allows the app to access your payment methods including bank accounts, credit and debit cards, and PayPal accounts. These apps also require you to accept their terms and conditions to use them, but they often even allow themselves to have access to your camera, microphones, and location. So, to recap, in order to download a “free app” you have to accept terms and conditions that can include but are not limited to access to banking information, card information, PayPal accounts, your camera and photos, your microphone, and even your location. All of these allowances can be used whether the apps is open or closed on your phone and can even still be used if you delete the app! So, take all of the information that an app can access simply by downloading it for free and accepting its terms, and multiply that by 60-90 apps per person on their phone.

This is not to say that all freemium apps are dangerous, or that all apps that offer in app purchases are going to try and access your information, but there is a cause for concern and a need for awareness when using any apps, freemium apps especially. Apps that are typically the most dangerous are gaming apps, photo editing apps, dating apps, and several social media apps that contain in-app purchases. Some ways to prevent any information being compromised are to buy or download apps that do not require in-app purchases, don’t allow apps to access your camera or location, only allow apps to use your location if it’s necessary and only while you’re using the app, and to always read the terms and conditions that you’re agreeing to when you download an app or make a purchase. With so many apps being free and so many threats present it can often be hard to tell what apps are safe and worth downloading. If an apps constantly asks for permissions and wants you to frequently make in-app purchases, then you can assume it’s probably not a safe app, or an app worth having.

Another problem with Freemium software is that the total cost of ownership for the game is unclear at the start. When you download it, you really have no way of knowing how much money you will pour into the game or service. People start to become annoyed with spending a dollar here and there for what should be basic capabilities, so then they start to share their app invitations on Facebook and through text in order to gain credit within the app. This is not only annoying to your friends and family, but it gives access to your contacts and now links the app with your social media accounts like Facebook and Twitter.

The real cost of using Freemium apps is having your information compromised, your privacy violated, and your money being taken in small increments that you barely notice, but that add up quickly. Using freemium apps without careful consideration is like selling your contacts, pictures, privacy, and other personal information for the $1.29 that you saved by not buying an app up front. That money that you saved is nothing compared to the information that you could lose. If you’re going to download free games and services, just make sure you know the cost.


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