Would a Facebook Subscription Model Work?

For a very long time people over the world spoke with concern over Facebook’s data collection for advertisers. So far most of the effects of this did not have a strong impact on the safety of the platform’s users, but they have been referred to by some as rather invasive.

After the Cambridge Analytica scandal that occurred in March 2018 and the outrage that followed, Facebook has been rapidly attempting to ameliorate the situation, and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, was raked through the coals by the US Congress. Now the company is discussing a new model that might help it avoid future problems of this nature.

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When sitting in front of the US Senate during his testimony on April 10, 2018, Zuckerberg was asked multiple times whether or not he would potentially offer subscriptions to users on Facebook for eliminating ads (and, by extension, data collection). He answered that they “don’t offer an option today for people to pay to not show ads.” However, he never ruled the option out.

He added that he firmly believes that an ad-supported environment provides the best experience.

I think, in general, people like not having to pay for a service. A lot of people can’t afford to pay for a service around the world, and this aligns with our mission the best,” Zuckerberg said.

The idea of paying for an ad-free experience isn’t a new one, however. WhatsApp, a company that Facebook bought in 2014, used to charge $1 per year for this privilege. In fact, a great number of smartphone applications do this on a regular basis, giving their users the option of a clean environment for a small payment. Many times it’s just a one-time payment that also offers other features that are locked away from the “free” version.

If Zuckerberg mulls it over and decides to offer subscriptions, it might not be long before we see a “Facebook Premium.” Ideally, in exchange for payment, users can browse Facebook without seeing advertisements and without any of their data being collected by the company (since it no longer has an incentive to do so).

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Offering a subscription in exchange for the privilege of avoiding data mining isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to market. Selling it as a subscription for ad removal is not that enticing either since the people that don’t want to see ads are mostly aware of free solutions such as AdBlock that remove them anyway.

Then again, Facebook has long been in an arms race with ad-blocking software. As soon as a new update comes out that allows users to block an ad on the platform, Facebook goes ahead and modifies its advertisement code to evade detection. It may sound sleazy, but it’s something normal for a company to do when the core of its revenue depends on this business model.

And even if one manages to block all sponsored content on the site, there’s still the issue of data collection. Just because you don’t see any ads doesn’t mean Facebook isn’t getting back a database of everything you post privately and publicly.

The subscription model would take care of that for more privacy-minded individuals. Ultimately, this might be the best approach to market it: pay a few dollars a month or per year, and you get the ultimate privacy boost and a few other premium features (such as the “unsend” feature that Facebook might unveil at some point).

If the social network manages to convince enough people to subscribe, and the new changes don’t alienate the rest of the users, it might even help provide a more reliable financing mechanism than ad buys from other companies. This would not only reduce Facebook’s liability with its data collection practices but also give users the flexibility to choose whether it even happens to them in the first place.

Do you think that a subscription-based “premium” option for Facebook is a good direction for the company? Tell us what you think in a comment!

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