The Flip Side of Free

The Flip Side of Free

Understanding the Economics of the Internet

By Michael Kende

Why “free” comes at a price: the costs of free Internet services in terms of privacy, cybersecurity, and the growing market power of technology giants.





Why “free” comes at a price: the costs of free Internet services in terms of privacy, cybersecurity, and the growing market power of technology giants.

The upside of the Internet is free Wi-Fi at Starbucks, Facetime over long distances, and nearly unlimited data for downloading or streaming. The downside is that our data goes to companies that use it to make money, our financial information is exposed to hackers, and the market power of technology companies continues to increase. In The Flip Side of Free, Michael Kende shows that free Internet comes at a price. We're beginning to realize this. Our all-purpose techno-caveat is “I love my smart speaker,” but is it really tracking everything I do? listening to everything I say?

Kende explains the unique economics of the Internet and the paradoxes that result. The most valuable companies in the world are now Internet companies, built on data often exchanged for free content and services. Many users know the impact of this trade-off on privacy but continue to use the services anyway. Moreover, although the Internet lowers barriers for companies to enter markets, it is hard to compete with the largest providers. We complain about companies having too much data, but developing countries without widespread Internet usage may suffer from the reverse: not enough data collection for the development of advanced services—which leads to a worsening data divide between developed and developing countries.

What's the future of free? Data is the price of free service, and the new currency of the Internet age. There's nothing necessarily wrong with free, Kende says, as long as we anticipate and try to mitigate what's on the flip side.


$29.95 T ISBN: 9780262045650 272 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 3 figures


  • “I read this book in one sitting. So should you. Clear, balanced, nuanced, and analytic. I have lived the Internet story and this book puts choices in a clear light.”

    Vint Cerf

    Internet pioneer

  • “In The Flip Side of Free, Kende wipes away the anecdotal and impressionistic grime that obscures our understanding of the Internet and its societal effects. In its place, he provides an unprecedented and sharp-eyed analysis of the economic forces roiling behind our screens.”

    Andrew Blum

    author, Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet

  • “An informative and insightful look at key topics in digital economics, including two-sided platforms and data. Kende provides essential background and frames the issues in a way that engages both academics and the general public.”

    Neil Gandal

    Professor, Berglas School of Economics, Tel Aviv University

  • “Michael Kende's unique mastery of economics and the technologies and governance structures that enabled the Internet's explosive growth makes this an essential and accessible read.”

    Lynn St.Amour

    CEO, Internet Matters

  • “Michael Kende's timely book unpacks the economics of the Internet. It reminds us of its transformative benefits for those who have it, while shining a bright light on the true cost of 'free.' A highly informative and readable story-so-far of the Internet we have, and the web we want.”

    Adrian Lovett

    President and CEO, World Wide Web Foundation