The Cost of Free Websites

Mini Challenge Summary

Summary: Reflect on the hidden costs of using free website services. Time: 45 minutes.

Stimulus Resources

Watch this Matrix parody, a comedy skit from CollegeHumour, that depicts if you are not paying for the service, you are not the consumer, but the product. Do you think this is a valid and reliable source for the topic?

Read Stop Saying ‘If You’re not Paying, You’re the Product’

Corporate Sponsored Scientific Research


The purpose of this mini challenge is to explore and reflect on the relationship between corporate commercial interests and digital citizenship for learning in a digital age.


  1. Read the stimulus resources listed above.
  2. Do you use ad-blocking software? Think about the reasons for your choice.
  3. How do you feel about the the real cost of “free” online services?
  4. Participate in the online discussion below.


Forum: Philanthropy and Corporate Advertising
Case Study

OERu is a charitable organization that provides open online courses for free, using open educational resources which any educational institution can adopt, modify and reuse. Many costs need to be covered to sustain OERu: for example, the assembly of open online courses, hosting the server and software infrastructure, and staff to coordinate and support the initiative.

OERu does not generate any revenue from corporate services, such as by allowing advertising on the OERu course sites to generate advertising revenue. Moreover, OERu does not sell or generate revenue from the personal data learners provide by using these free learning services. Users are not the product of this service.


Join the discussion on philanthropy and corporate advertising. The key question is how can non-profit organizations sustain free educational services for those who can’t afford traditional education provision?

Consider the following issues:

  • As a learner, how would you feel if the course materials included corporate advertising? If advertising were supported, how would you feel if the OERu course sites required you to switch off any ad-blockers before gaining access to the course materials?
  • Is it appropriate for publicly funded institutions and charities working in education to generate revenue from corporate advertising to support and sustain free online services? What are the risks and opportunities?
  • Should education institutions and educational charities accept significant corporate sponsorship in return for profiling proprietary products?
  • The OERu has recommended that learners use free blogging services to share their learning outputs. Many of these services carry advertising. How do you feel about using these services – being the product rather than consumer? Would it be better for OERu to recommend that learners use a paid service without advertising? How would this impact on learners who do not have sufficient funds to afford maintaining a domain of their own?
  • Other?
Last modified: Tuesday, October 12, 2021, 2:43 PM