Consider this (emphasis is mine):
Ads are the Internet’s tax on users who want free apps and websites. Allmost all free apps and services have ads. Ad-supported companies are akin to the government in the sense that they are both really good at finding ways to charge you without it seemingly coming out of your pocket. Many people’s taxes are taken automatically out of their payroll, so they don’t think of that money as being theirs to begin with. Similarly, we feel like everything that we don’t directly pay money for on the Internet is free, but that is simply not true.
That quote’s from Vibhu Norby, in Why We’re Pivoting from Mobile-first to Web-first. He goes on:
Unlike taxes, however, ad-based services target lower-income and lower-education audiences because that’s where they make all of their money … What’s the cost to the user? The cost is the loss of privacy, and future opportunities for the user that they’ve lost as a result. Those opportunities can cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars as well as future happiness.
Is this a business decision based on ground-level fundamental ethics? What’s good for people or bad for people? No, not exactly. It’s about chances of success:
We want to place our chips where we believe we have the best chance of succeeding based on our theories and data. For us, mobile is not that place, which is why our new product is going to be launching web-first in the next couple months, with mobile as a companion app. We are taking a big bet on the web and the Internet in general, as you’ll see by how it functions. We are also going revenue-first because we believe in privacy and we’re willing to trade a smaller, slower-growing audience for it. Our new product will cost you money, so you can be assured that it doesn’t cost you something else.
Vibhu’s post makes very good reading. Fundamentals: web vs. mobile, ad-supported vs. free.