Sending messages has always been a paying service. No messenger will cover long distances for free. There’s the cost of transportation, of course. The integrity of the message itself and precautions you have to take to avoid it being stolen or read. There’s food, and plenty more expenses and finally the messenger will want to make a profit.

What are the costs of mass-sending push notifications?

Here at WonderPush, we send about 10 billion push notifications a month. That’s more than one message per human being on the planet, so we know a little bit about the costs of sending push.

Our infrastructure is hosted on Google servers. We spend a significant amount of time optimizing our software to pay less. We’ve been doing that since we started 3 years ago. We’ve built our stack on the experience of a previous business that handled even more load. So when it comes to cost efficiency, it’s hard to do better than WonderPush.

Yet each month, we write Google a 5-figure check. We pay our engineers. All in all, we realized very early that sending push notifications was far from being free.

How can other push services offer a free plan?

There’s a number of actors on the market that offer free push notification plans. OneSignal, the market leader, offers such a plan.

Assuming these businesses are aiming to be profitable, how do they compensate for the cost of sending notifications, paying their engineers, launching large marketing campaigns? In other terms, how do they make money?

There’s multiple answers.

Free push notifications with limitations

One way to make the equation work is to provide a free tier with the option to upgrade to a paid plan. This is also called “freemium plans”.

For example, certain providers offer a free plan up to a number of subscribers, usually pretty low (30,000 subscribers for OneSignal). Once you reach the limit you have to upgrade to a paid plan. Besides the fact that migrating to another push service is easy, it’s always easier to start paying.

In this scenario, the push notification service providing the free plan hopes to convert enough customers to a paid plan in order to compensate for the cost of having a free tier.

This really is like a free trial, without a guarantee of duration.

Unlimited free push notifications

Other providers like FoxPush seem to be able to provide an unlimited free tier. Unlimited subscribers, unlimited push notifications. They do offer premium plans as well, but the price is not advertised. They obviously want you to sign up for the free plan, but there’s a catch.

It’s almost the first statement of their Terms of use:

“the Publisher agrees that FoxPush may collect Publisher Data related to an End User’s visit to and activity on the Publisher Site(s)”

FoxPush’s Terms of Use

What’s going on here? Well two things are likely to happen:

  • they could plant cookies on your users browsers, follow them around, record every single interaction, tags, page views, etc.
  • they could record all activity on your website, not just of subscribers but of every single user.

Wow! That’s a lot of data! And not just user data, but also (your) business sensitive data like audience, revenue and much more.

In an ad-driven online world, one can only imagine how easy it would be to monetize this data.

What about GDPR, one might ask? 

GDPR is the latest european regulation aiming at improving end-user privacy. Among other things, GDPR forces content providers worldwide to obtain user consent before planting cookies on european browsers.

FoxPush proudly claims:

“The essence of the GDPR is in direct alignment with our core values of customer trust and data privacy. (…) We are committed to achieving GDPR compliance by the May 25th, 2018 deadline”

FoxPush’s website claims GDPR compliance

No worries then? Well not exactly, if we refer to their Cookie policy:

“(…) the User can manage preferences for Cookies directly from within their own browser and prevent – for example – third parties from installing Cookies”

FoxPush’s scary Cookie Policy

In other words, they are throwing user consent out the window. As a reminder, user consent is at the center of GDPR. Since GDPR went live, european users have been accustomed to see a number of consent windows on the websites they visit. The most friendly look like this:

How prompts user consent

Well, FoxPush is simply foxing away from GDPR by stating that users can delete cookies themselves in their web browsers preferences!

In other terms, FoxPush and other push providers that provide free tiers and monetize data are not GDPR compliant. If you are using these free plans, your app or website is not GDPR compliant either.

If you care about GDPR (that is if you do business in Europe), stay away from these providers or be ready to pay huge fines.

What about “Free forever” push notification services?

FoxPush, and others like TruePush claim that their free notification service will be free forever. How can that be, and should we expect it to be true?

We have been trying to find guarantees in TruePush’s terms of use, without success: those terms of use simply do not exist! There’s a privacy policy and besides the fact that its contents are scary, there’s no trace of any other legal document.

What if “free forever” actually applied to your sensitive data and not push notifications?

That is likely to be the case. Indeed, no company is guaranteed to exist forever. But data doesn’t die with the company. If you own a USB stick, you know that storage is cheap. One thing for sure: the data collected will never be erased and will probably end up on a former employee’s disk drive.

What happens next is clearly undefined but doesn’t sound any good.

Our conclusion: stick with paid plans.

At WonderPush, we recently removed our free tier. Most applications in our free tier weren’t really active anyways, and we bet on a new business model that is so clear and fair to everyone that the free tier just didn’t make sense anymore.

We charge €1 / month plus €1 per 1000 subscribers, which allows us to grow with our customers.

This business model allows us to provide unlimited push notifications and a full-featured service to everyone. Including those who pay just €1 a month. We do not collect personal information, and our Javascript SDK doesn’t even use cookies at all.

We love GDPR and we promote it whenever we can.

A screenshot of WonderPush's bell subscription widget that lets subscribers manage their personal data
WonderPush’s bell subscription widget lets subscribers manage their personal data

When choosing your push notification service, keep in mind that end users will be in direct contact with your provider. You owe them to make the right choice.

To help you with this choice, we’ve put together a short list of serious push notification providers (besides WonderPush of course) that offer paid plans and a good level of service:

And remember: migrating to another push service is easy!