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Is requiring a Facebook or Google Account fair?

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Hi, Leo. I find many websites offer great free things to try but when I attempt to download the software, I’m told I can only download it if I have a Facebook account. Occasionally, I’m also restricted to downloading only if I have a Google account. In my mind, free should mean free, not free only if I use Facebook/Google. Since I refuse to use Facebook or Google, this doesn’t seem quite fair to me. I’m sure there must be others that feel this way too. I sense that this a money issue and that Facebook and Google are paying these websites to restrict their free usage only to customers that agree to Facebook’s and Google’s rules. Is this becoming more common and do you think it’s a fair practice?

First, I think it’s pretty clear that websites can do whatever the heck they want to, within legal limits. That’s how a free market works. If you don’t like the requirements that are placed on getting something, then don’t get that something. If enough people agree with you, then that site will not get whatever it was they were hoping to get by giving away whatever it was they were giving away.

Is it fair? Gosh, that’s an unanswerable question; I really don’t know.

Life isn’t fair, and particularly when it comes to the internet, I guess I just don’t look for fair. If it’s really a no-strings-attached kind of giveaway, fantastic. But if it isn’t, I make a decision and I get on with my life. Like I said, that puts you in control.

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ECON 101

To be honest, free is rarely free. There’s an economics principle that I learned years ago when I was required to take ECON 101 or something like that. TANSTAAFL. It’s an acronym for “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”.

Sometimes you have to give up an email address; sometimes you have to have a Facebook account; sometimes you have to look at ads; and sometimes there are other things from completely benign to truly annoying. Bottom line: if you don’t like it, leave the site.

Free! I do not believe that Facebook or Google is paying anyone to force their sevices to be used. I certainly have never seen or heard of such a thing. Typically, website owners that have a giveaway like this will use Facebook or Google for one of two reasons:

  1. It’s an easy way for the person offering free things to stay in touch with you, since it doesn’t require them to set up any complicated registration.
  2. It’s an easy way for them to encourage you to share whatever it is they have to offer on one of those social media sites.

That’s really all that I think is at play here. It’s a business decision. Whether it’s a good business decision or a bad one is a different discussion. Personally, I probably would go the other way, but I could see arguments for it being the right decision as well. It depends on what they are trying to accomplish with their giveaway.

But don’t think for a second that there isn’t some kind of business rationale behind what they’re attempting to do.

I don’t know if it’s fair. I don’t really know what “fair” means in a context like this; but ultimately, no, it doesn’t bother me. If the requirements are too high to get something for free, well, then I don’t get it because it’s not really free. I just move on with my life.

Posted: January 24, 2014 in: Internet
Shortlink: https://askleo.com/12942
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I'm Leo Notenboom and I've been playing with computers since I took a required programming class in 1976. I spent over 18 years as a software engineer at Microsoft, and after "retiring" in 2001 I started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place to help you find answers and become more confident using this amazing technology at our fingertips. More about Leo.

8 comments on “Is requiring a Facebook or Google Account fair?”

  1. It’s very common for people to open up a throwaway email address to take advantage of offers. Some might want to consider opening a throwaway Facebook, Twitter or Google+ account so their likes and logins via social media accounts don’t show up on their real timelines.

    Reply
    • Agreed. My Yahoo email address is specifically just for times when a website wants an email address. My Yahoo email is also the login ID for my Google account (which I never use) and my Facebook account. I also have a Twitter account that I also rarely need. But it’s nice to have these things set up so that they can be used when the need arises.

      Just because you set up an account, doesn’t mean you have to use it. Of course Twitter keeps sending emails to my Yahoo email address to remind me to use it and personalize it. I just consider them spam like all the other email in my Yahoo account.

      Reply
  2. A wonderful joke I saw on the internet some time ago stated:
    “If you are not paying to use a service, then you are not the consumer – you are the product being sold”
    I find increasingly that I am being bombarded with requests for “personal” information from sites, or having to sign up for memberships (Nintendo recently did this to me) in order to continue to use their services. Some sites even turn you away if you have a dynamic (or withheld) IP address.
    Anonymity is dead. Privacy is dead.

    Reply
  3. I have no use whatsoever for Facebook except to use it to obtain certain discounts or the occasional ‘freebies’ as discussed. To that end I opened an FB account with a free throwaway email address, neither of which contains any real information about me. It’s amusing that even though I used an odd, nonsensical name FB has lots of suggestions as to whom I might want as friends.

    Reply
  4. My beef is being asked to join Facebook having just posted a lengthy reply to a pet subject on a
    forum which only reveals itself after having clicked the ‘Comment’ tab. It is so frustrating having wasted precious minutes of one’s life and only makes me hate Facebook even more.

    Reply
      • Thank you Leo,

        Maybe you are not aware just how much readers are prevented from making a contribution.

        In addition to the ‘hidden’ method used by various sites – take a look at the login toolbar with options such as Facebook, Google, etc. How often do they invite a Yahoo member ?? Not very often.

        Reply
  5. The first thing I do when I consider downloading, or installing a program that comes with another download (advertised as an “useful” program), is searching it with terms like “adware, malware, virus and such”.
    To do extra work as some ask: actually is too much work for me, so I leave the site.
    If I still remember it tomorrow then maybe I need it.
    It’s similar to shopping: I shop without money with me, saves impulse buying.
    Shopkeepers hate me for that.

    Reply

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