Free stuff
Credit: torbakhopper via Flickr/CC by 2.0

As part of marketing strategies, many companies like to give out freebies to entice consumers to try their products or services. This strategy is done in the hope people will like what they test-drive enough to make a purchase and, if they love it, might even become a loyal customer.

Years ago the Internet opened up a great window of opportunity for businesses because they now had a huge audience to market their products to. Over the years companies have grasped the benefits of the web and have found targeted online marketing to be a pretty terrific tool.

Tapping into the power of the Internet to distribute freebies is a great way to try to gain a competitive edge over other companies. As a result, there are a lot of legitimate items to be found available to consumers – most at no monetary cost at all.

Free stuff? Great! Where can I sign up?

Credit: MoneyforCoffee via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain

While getting free stuff online is often fun and can save some money too, it’s important for consumers to know the privacy aspects associated with this practice - most companies aren't going to blurt it out, but they'll typically bury these details in a privacy policy.

Is Free Really Free?

While getting these giveaway products won't cost consumers money (although in some cases it’ll cost some shipping and handling), is it really free? Even if a freebie offer doesn't cost money, it does come at a cost – privacy. In order to get the goods, consumers are most likely going to be asked to share personal information. This is the trade-off they'll have to make to receive free samples, products or services.

The reason for this is because companies want to profile consumers and other like-minded people to build targeted consumer bases and/or sell the information to other interested companies. Amassing a ton of consumer information is of far more value to a company than the products they give away. Data is big commodity these days.

What’s Wrong With Sharing Information?

This is not to say giving up some personal information to obtain freebie offers is necessarily a bad thing, but it is important consumers are aware of how their personal information will be used. Essentially, this trade-off depends how much information a person is willing to give in exchange for goodies. Many people do not mind giving out personal information in return for free products and these are the people who companies are hoping to find.

Eye spy
Credit: Jenny Hudson via Flickr/CC by 2.0

Often giveaways are a benefit to all involved, other times, not so much for the consumer once the freebies are received and/or any special offers expire. Consumer data information is one of the most valuable assets a company can possess. Once they have it, they can data mine it, analyze it and detect patterns which are invisible to the naked eye. They then use this information for targeted advertising and/or providing personalized shopping to customers. Or to send emails. Lots of emails. Then consumers are frequently left with a bunch of spam or advertisements in your mailbox to sort through.

The bottom line? Nothing is ever truly free.

On the Plus Side . . .

Freebies are definitely available online and a good number of them are legitimate, but what it ultimately comes down to is how much consumers are willing to “spend”. The Internet is an amazing tool, and both consumers and companies alike tremendously benefit from it, but it is important to be aware of those trade-offs, even if it isn't the monetary one many people initially think of when getting freebie products from companies. It all boils down to personal information and data and how much people are willing or OK with sharing.  In some cases, these freebies (and the trade-offs that come with them) are worth looking into.

How to Avoid  the ‘Gotcha’

Consumer Reports offers people tips on how to (mostly) “dodge" what they refer to as "the gotcha”. 1 By taking a few steps, consumers can reduce the amount of digital clutter arriving in their inboxes and can also help preserve some level of privacy if that’s what’s being sought.

  • Use a throwaway email account; if you don’t have one already, create one (ironically free email is another way data is collected).
  • Opt out of mailings – according to Consumer Reports, most companies allow people to opt-out of mailings, stating only two companies required consumers to agree to mailings in order to get the freebie. (Keep in mind you might have to seek out these opt-out checkboxes - companies typically have set up opt-in as the default and may or may not make it hard to find ways to opt-out.)
  • Before signing up for freebies read comments and reviews. CR suggests checking out aggregator sites, such as and, to see what other consumers are saying about their experiences.
  • Tweak your personal information. For instance, don’t give your real birthday and alter your name just a bit.

Additionally, be aware there are lots of freebie scams out there in cyberland too. Always be careful who you give information to because if it entails mailing you the freebie, they’ll have your home address too.

[ Related Reading: Scam Alert - When to Flee From Free ]

According to research done by the Pew Research Center, after surveying 461 people in January and February 2015, the general consensus found was people feel data tracking is “creepy”, “Big Brother” and “stalking”, but also acknowledged it’s appealing to get freebies (courtesy The Atlantic). 2 Another consensus was that people are resigned to today’s erosion of privacy.

What do you think? Are the trade-offs worth it? Or has the privacy line been blurred to the point it doesn’t matter anymore because so much of our personal information is out there?