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Cybersafe September 26, 2019

Why You Shouldn’t Accept Free Things Online

As the saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch.


While of course this saying shouldn’t be taken literally, it simply reminds us of the reality that usually, when someone offers something for “free”, there is usually a much larger cost to it attached.


Free apps: It’s hard to think of unseen costs when everything is labelled “FREE” on the Internet, but they exist. Apps are a good example of this. While some have in-app purchase costs, most are free to download and use. We rationalize to ourselves that these apps make money through advertisements, but there is a high chance these apps are actually collecting your personal data.


Harmless apps may be used to track your location, your habits, and even personal information. Information such as this is especially valuable to large companies who want to create ads that are targeted and tailored to you. And while that doesn’t seem too bad, imagine what happens when all of this information about you gets hacked – which happens far more frequently than we are aware of.


Prize scams: You’ve never even entered an online sweepstake, but suddenly a pop-up appears announcing that you’ve won a fantastic prize. Online prize scams try to trick you by getting you to send personal information so they can send the prize, or attempt to phish you by getting you to click on a link. Be warned: either may lead to hacking, fraud, or theft.


If you aren’t sure whether or not you joined a contest, check the message that was sent to you. Is it properly addressed to you, or does it just call you “Dear Winner”? Is it from a reputable-sounding organization? (Although according to Google, many scams have been committed in their name). Be sure to do your research and look up these so-called contests to see how legit they are.


Internet piracy: There’s no point in denying that most people, if not all, have attempted to pirate (or regularly pirate) content from the Internet. However, in a study conducted by the Technology Policy Institute, they found that users are more exposed to malware and other harmful software through piracy sites. Piracy sites, since they share content for free,make money through advertisements, but also through malware links to acquire users’ data – which is highly profitable.


Based on their experiment observations from a user study of around 250 people, they found that users who spend twice as much time on piracy sites increased the number of malware on their computers by 20%. They also found that users who were on piracy sites more did not necessarily use measures to protect themselves or their computers from malware infection.


These are only some of the problems that come along with “free” things online. Always remember that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.


This article is part of the Banker’s Association of the Philippines’ (BAP) #CyberSafe campaign, where the BAP aims to promote awareness in cybersecurity. The campaign will upload new posts tackling common web security questions and issues on Wednesdays and Sundays every week.


For more content on cybersecurity, visit the BAP Official YouTube channel.