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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.
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Facebook is no longer the king of the social media castle. More and more people are starting to turn their backs on the network for good. And while it’s still possible to contend that you shouldn’t delete your account, the arguments in favor of ditching the service are piling up at an alarming rate.
If you value your security and/or privacy, keep reading.
1. A Terrible Track Record
In early 2018, Facebook hit the news headlines for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. In simple terms, Zuckerberg’s company was complicit in letting the data analysis firm steal and retain information on 50 million of the service’s users.
If the incident was a one-off, you might be able to forgive Facebook. But it wasn’t a one-off. It was just the latest in a long line of data-handling missteps, and further proof that Facebook’s security isn’t up to par.
Here are some of the other most infamous incidents.
Cast your mind back to 2007. Facebook had just opened to the public for the first time (previously, it was restricted to students).
In November of that year, the company launched Beacon. It was a script that allowed third-party websites to automatically post the actions of a user onto the network. For example, if you bought a plane ticket, it would suddenly pop up on your wall for everyone to see.
In today’s world, it barely seems believable, but the project lasted for two years until eventually being shut down following the settlement of a class-action lawsuit.
Instant Personalization was a pilot program launched in 2010.
It automatically shared a person’s information with affiliate sites. For example, it could share your favorite sports teams with a news site so you see appropriate headlines first, or it could share your favorite bands with a music website, and so on.
Here’s what the Electronic Frontier Foundation said about the scheme at the time:
“For users that have not opted out, Instant Personalization is instant data leakage. As soon as you visit the sites in the pilot program, they can access your name, your picture, your gender, your current location, your list of friends, and all the Pages you have Liked.
Even if you opt out of Instant Personalization, there’s still data leakage if your friends use Instant Personalization websites—their activities can give away information about you.”
This wasn’t the first (or last) time that your friends could be a threat to your Facebook privacy.
Applications and Identifying Information
In another 2010 scandal that—in hindsight—turned out to be a harbinger of things to come, the Wall Street Journal found that many Facebook apps were transmitting identifying information to online advertising tracking companies.
An HTTP referrer made it possible. It could expose both a user’s identity and their friends’ identities, posing a big threat to everyone’s Facebook privacy.
It took Facebook almost 12 months to remedy the issue.
2. Zuckerberg’s Duplicity on Privacy
Mark Zuckerberg is a curious character. Facebook made him a multi-billionaire in his 20s and—for a long time in the 2000s—the media viewed him as a savior of sorts.
Here’s one of his public quotes from Facebook’s early days (via Forbes):
“By giving people the power to share, we’re making the world more transparent. When you give everyone a voice and give people power, the system usually ends up in a really good place. So, what we view our role as, is giving people that power.”
Sounds honorable. But Zuckerberg seems to have a darker, duplicitous side. His quotes are Trump-esque; he doesn’t seem to maintain the same opinion from one interview to the next. Thus, it’s incredibly hard to know what he actually thinks about the topic of user privacy.
Let’s take a closer look.
Of course, there’s one quote that’s now infamous above all others (via The Register):
“I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, and addresses [of Harvard students]. People just submitted it. I don’t know why. They trust me. Dumb f*cks.”
But even if you attribute that to the exuberance of youth, Mark has consistently appeared to flip-flop on the subject of privacy.
Compare this quote from the D8 conference in June 2010:
“There have been misperceptions that we’re trying to make all information open, but that’s false. We encourage people to keep their information private.”
With this one from an interview with Wired June 2009:
“People can make their profile open to everyone. And what I would just expect is that as time goes on, we’re just going to keep on moving more and more in that direction.”
Alternatively, compare this quote from an op-ed in the Washington Post in May 2010:
“We do not share your personal information with people or services you don’t want. We do not give advertisers access to your personal information. And we do not and never will sell any of your information to anyone.”
With this quote from an interview with Time in the very same month:
“The way that people think about privacy is changing a bit […] What people want isn’t complete privacy.”
Even as recently as Spring 2017—just nine months before the Cambridge Analytica scandal—he was offering mixed messages. Here’s what he told Freakonomics Radio host Stephen Dunbar in a podcast:
“Privacy is extremely important, and people engage and share their content and feel free to connect because they know that their privacy is going to be protected on Facebook.”
Why the Duplicity?
In some sense, Zuckerberg is caught between a rock and a hard place. On a personal level, he probably does believe in user privacy. But he’s also the CEO of a publicly listed company that’s worth in excess of $500 billion and happens to be one of the largest ad agencies in the world.
Ultimately, he knows that Facebook’s future is dependent on keeping shareholders happy. To keep shareholders happy, Facebook needs to make copious amounts of cash. And to make copious amounts of cash, he has to play fast and loose with users’ data.
The whole thing would feel more palatable if Zuckerberg was more honest about Facebook’s intentions. Why won’t he admit that Facebook users are the company’s product?
Instead, we’re left with an ongoing charade in which Facebook clearly uses your information to make money while simultaneously pretending privacy is one of its central tenets.
Which one do you think is more important to Facebook executives? Exactly. That’s why you should delete your account.
3. Government and Private Surveillance
You can split the issue of surveillance into two parts: government and a private company.
Oh, how the East German Stasi must have longed for a tool like Facebook. Can you imagine a better way for a repressive regime to monitor its citizens?
But the surveillance doesn’t end with dictatorships and secret police. People living in “democracies” are also under threat from Facebook’s cooperation with security forces.
Governments across North America and Europe now frequently order Facebook to give up users’ data to help them discover crimes, establish motives, prove or disprove alibis, and reveal communications. Much of it goes under the guise of “fighting terrorism,” but that’s a catch-all term whose meaning is becoming increasingly diluted.
And how does Facebook respond to the requests? Frankly, it rolls over meekly and gives the governments what they want.
If you’re in the US, the only exception is unopened inbox messages that are less than 181 days old. To access those, governments need a warrant and probable cause.
“We may also share information when we have a good faith belief it is necessary to prevent fraud or other illegal activity, [or] to prevent imminent bodily harm […] This may include sharing information with other companies, lawyers, courts, or other government entities.”
Furthermore, in early 2018, the United States announced it was going to start vetting people’s social media profiles as part of its requirements for granting an entry visa. It’s only a matter of time until other countries follow suit.
If you don’t fancy giving the White House complete access to your Facebook life just to go on holiday to Disneyland, it’s better to reach for the delete button.
Private Company Surveillance
How would you feel if that funny-but-offensive meme you posted last week ended up costing you your dream job?
It could happen.
There are numerous instances of employers asking prospective employees for their Facebook login credentials. The issue became so prevalent that New Jersey had to pass a bill that made it illegal for employers to ask potential or current employees for access to their Facebook accounts. Even then, companies in several industries still spy on their employees.
To this day, there is still no federal law that protects the workers. The integrity of their Facebook privacy is left in the hands of employers.
4. Publishing Rights
We’ve all seen the statuses on Facebook. They typically read something like “In response to the new Facebook guidelines I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, blah, blah, blah.”
Here’s the kicker. You already own the copyright to any original work you’ve posted on the network. That status update has absolutely no legal basis.
So, what’s all the fuss about?
It’s because Facebook’s terms and conditions lay claim to “Non-Exclusive, Transferable, Sub-Licensable, Royalty-Free” rights to anything you put on the network.
These all relate to publishing, not ownership. Your ownership of your content is not in question, but you have granted Facebook permission republish it in just about any way the company deems appropriate. It can even sell sub-licenses for your work and directly profit from it.
As we noted in a post on the ownership of Facebook photos elsewhere on the site, the only way you’re going to be able to renegotiate those terms is to talk with Facebook’s lawyers directly. And it’s just a hunch, but we suspect they won’t be too receptive to your protests.
From a privacy perspective, it means that you could create a piece of artwork with personally identifying information (like a selfie, or a love letter, or a poem), and Facebook could transfer the publishing rights to another entity, sell the sub-license for a fee, and not pay you a penny. Before you know it, you’re looking at a mugshot of yourself on the side of the New York subway.
Don’t take the risk.
The List Goes On…
We could list Facebook security and privacy concerns all day, but we won’t. Hopefully, you now have enough information to make an informed decision.
If you’re still not sure whether to delete Facebook, consider the non-privacy-based reasons to delete Facebook.
It’s fair to say that Facebook isn’t enjoying a great time at the moment. The company is stumbling from controversy to controversy; it’s gotten flak for everything from fake news to influencing elections.
But although its problems are well-documented, it still has more than two billion users. And many of those people use the service to debate and discuss politics (despite 31 percent of Facebook users saying they’d unfriend someone who talks about politics too much).
Given so many users talk about politics, Facebook’s algorithms can make a reasonable assumption about your political beliefs—which party you vote for, which politicians you support, which ideology you have confidence in, and so on.
So, the million-dollar question: Has Facebook got it right?
How to See What Facebook Thinks of Your Politics
To find out what Facebook thinks about your political beliefs, you need to dig deep into the settings menu. Follow the instructions below.
- Log into Facebook.
- Click on the small arrow in the upper right-hand corner.
- In the dropdown menu, click on Settings.
- In the menu on the left-hand side of the screen, select Ads.
- Scroll down and expand the Your Information section.
- Click on the Your Categories tab.
You’ll probably see lots of tags covering many of your interests, but somewhere in there, you will find a label(s) about your political leaning.
Remember, these are not tags you’ve added yourself. Facebook adds you to the categories based on your online activity. If the tag is wrong, you can fix it. Just click on the cross next to the tag in question.
Finally, keep in mind that there are much better ways to get your political news than via Facebook’s news feed.
Image Credit: Mactrunk/Depositphotos
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