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In his testimony before the US Senate Judiciary and Commerce committee, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg suggested a paid version of Facebook is a possibility.
What would a paid version of Facebook look like? And is it time we started paying for Facebook to stop the social network harvesting our data?
What Mark Zuckerberg Said…
During the hearings, Mark Zuckerberg made a couple of interesting points about a possible paid version of Facebook—this despite the fact that he received extensive training prior to meeting legislators to ensure he chose his words carefully.
Zuckerberg was asked whether his objectives are the same now as when he made earlier statements stating that Facebook would always be free. As reported by The Verge, Zuckerberg replied:
“There will always be a version of Facebook that is free. It is our mission to try to help connect everyone around the world and bring the world closer together. In order to do that, we believe we need to deliver a service that everyone can afford.”
It’s the particular phrase “version of Facebook” that hints to many that there could be a paid version planned for the future.
#Zuckerberg doubles down on Facebook's current business model of using customer data to serve ads, so probably don't expect an ad-free subscription option any time soon. #ZuckOnTheHill #CheddarLIVE pic.twitter.com/A37O4XHkMV
— Cheddar (@cheddar) April 10, 2018
Later in the hearing, Zuckerberg was asked about Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s recent comments about a paid Facebook product. Sandberg had told The Today Show that the company doesn’t offer users the option to opt out of ads or data collection because “that would be a paid product.”
In the hearings, as reported by CNBC, Zuckerberg clarified:
“I think what Sheryl was saying is in order to not run ads at all we would need some sort of business model. To be clear, we don’t offer an option today for people to pay to not show ads.”
And further on:
“We think offering people an ad-supported service is the most aligned with our mission of trying to connect everyone in the world, because we want to offer a free service that everyone can afford. That’s the only way we can reach billions of people.”
Facebook Is Free, So Why Should I Pay?
The simple answer to this question is a paid version could help protect your privacy. Even though we have an extensive guide to Facebook privacy, we know there’s only so much each individual use can do. No matter how many settings you tweak, the social network still retains an incredible amount of data about you, even when you aren’t on Facebook and just browsing the web casually.
The recent controversy surrounding the Cambridge Analytica scandal has exposed just how much data Facebook stores about its users. The company and its supporters have always said that this is a necessity in order to offer a free service that is funded by ads.
In an article on BuzzFeed, science fiction writer Ted Chiang recently wrote that Facebook’s goal isn’t to connect you to your friends, it’s to show you targeted ads.
So here’s the counter to that: a paid version of Facebook that is ad-free and thus does not require the company to track its users and store personal data in order to make money.
About Those Facebook “Premium” Ads…
The chances are you have seen a few ads in the past claiming to be offering a paid version of Facebook with extra features and data protection.
This premium version of Facebook is often called “Facebook Gold”. In case you didn’t know, this is a Facebook scam and there isn’t any such premium version right now.
If you have signed up for any such service, please disconnect it immediately. If you paid for it, please reverse the transaction, check your credit card, and update your passwords and PIN numbers just to be safe.
Facebook Shouldn’t Be an All-or-Nothing Choice
We’ve established that there isn’t currently a paid version of Facebook available. Which means you have the choice to either use it as is, or delete Facebook entirely. There are plenty of reasons to not delete Facebook, but unless you do you’re stuck with it in its current form.
But is there another way?
After growing as big as it has done, Facebook owes its users more varied choices than the current binary. One shouldn’t have to give up large portions of one’s privacy on the internet to use an essential service in the modern world.
Yes, Facebook needs to make money. So why doesn’t the social network offer an actual choice to those who are willing to pay for it? What it lost in ad revenue could be made up by subscription fees.
Facebook Already Offers a Paid Version for Companies
We already know Facebook isn’t opposed to paid tiers. Workplace by Facebook is a private social network for business, offering both an ad-supported free version and an ad-free paid premium version.
As you can see by Facebook Workplace’s pricing, the ad-free paid version costs $3 per user per month, for companies with up to 1,000 employees. For companies with over 1,000 employees, the price drops to $1 per user per month.
This is one of those things you should know about Facebook, but most people seem to be unaware of Facebook Workplace. The company doesn’t heavily advertise Workplace’s model of offering free and paid tiers because people would start asking awkward questions about why such a system isn’t available for the regular version of Facebook we all know
and love put up with.
How Much Would a Paid Version of Facebook Cost?
Workplace by Facebook actually represents good value for money, but don’t expect to pay anywhere near as low as $3/month for ad-free access to the regular version of Facebook.
In 2013, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone took to Medium to pitch “Facebook Premium,” an ad-free version of Facebook that would cost $10/month. Others have suggested Facebook adopts a subscription-based model similar to Spotify’s, where you can access everything Facebook has to offer for $10/month or $100/year.
Facebook Should Be Forced to Offer a Paid Version
Taking all of this into consideration there seems to be a genuine case for a paid version of Facebook. But don’t count on it happening any time soon. Despite Zuckerberg’s apparent slip-up, the company will fight it for as long as it can. So much so that we may need government intervention to make it happen.
According to The Economist, the world’s new most valuable resource is data, not oil. And with over 2 billion monthly active users, Facebook is currently the king of data, sucking it up at a rate of knots. This data is simply too valuable for Facebook to voluntarily offer to give it up. And that should concern us all.
Unless governments around the world band together to force Facebook to offer a paid version of its service to users, it’s simply not going to happen. So it seems that regulation, in this case, is a necessity. Especially if we want Facebook to stop influencing elections around the world.