The end of the “free” internet. For some.

But that, we don’t mean the freedom that the internet offers, but the provision of free services is coming to an abrupt end.

Since the early noughties, we’ve all become accustomed to using free services on the web. Free email, free search, free directories, free music, free video, the list goes on and on. And once we moved over to using smartphones a few years later, that free mantra continued unabated.

Except it wasn’t really free. You gave up data in ever-increasing quantity, and that was sold on to advertisers. It was the bargain that most people accepted until now. The abuse or at least over-use of that private data started to become an issue for governments and some users. We had mostly sleep-walked into mass surveillance by hundreds of “little brothers”, and WE had become the product on the web. Our data was hijacked and sold to the highest bidder.

Companies routinely flouted privacy rules, and the movement to “free the web” from commercial control flourished. Today we stand on the brink of a new era, which will see increased privacy in exchange for money. Apple is leading the way, indirectly, by making app developers explain to us all exactly what data is being mined – and for most, this is an uncomfortable moment. It is also a time when more and more companies are offering paid-for plans that avoid users giving up their privacy.

Who wouldn’t pay a few pounds a month to avoid sharing the content of your private email? Or giving up your precise location 24×7? Free services will still exist, but the economies of scale for those services will not work nearly as well with far fewer users. But how many folks are really going to pay hundreds of pounds per year to replicate the services they already use?