Think what you will about Facebook’s intrusions into your privacy, but the all-knowing social media network appears to have hit on a feature that could use that power for good, and help a significant cohort of its users: singles. On Tuesday, the social network announced it has started a matchmaking service.
Back in 2010, a young Mark Zuckerberg told lawmakers that Facebook would always be free. Eight years later, a more grown-up Zuckerberg updated his stance to Congress, saying “There will always be a version of Facebook that is free.”
That statement leaves open the possibility that Facebook will someday offer a paid version — perhaps one without ads and the ensuing data scandal that has Zuckerberg testifying in front of lawmakers right now.
But would people actually pay for an ads-free version?
According to a new online survey by Recode and market research company Toluna, most Americans wouldn’t pay, despite how little they trust Facebook with their personal information. 77 percent would stick to the regular ads version, while 23 percent said they’d pay not to have ads.
Facebook makes its money by leveraging user data in order to serve users ads it thinks are pertinent. Facebook generates about $9 a month per user in the U.S. by targeting you with ads. Theoretically, it would want about the same to offer the service ad-free.
So for those who would be willing to pay for Facebook, how much would they be willing to pay?
Nearly 42 percent said they’d spend between $1 and $5 a month for Facebook. About 25 percent said they’d pay between $6 and $10 — or what Facebook is already making per user.
The survey was conducted online on April 11 among 750 U.S. adults.
In the 11 or so days since the story broke that 50 million Facebook users’ data was exposed through a Cambridge Analytica researcher’s app, executives up and down the Facebook food chain—from CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg’s five-day-late apology tour to vp of global marketing Carolyn Everson’s talking points memo—took to the media to explain what happened, though perhaps later than some would have liked.
One voice, however, has been suspiciously quiet: that of chief privacy officer Erin Egan. No longer.
In a blog post today, Egan and deputy general counsel Ashlie Beringer announced several data settings the company believes will help users better understand what data is being collected and how Facebook users can be a bit more in control of the data they put into the Facebook engine.
“Last week showed how much more work we need to do to enforce our policies and help people understand how Facebook works and the choices they have over their data,” Egan and Beringer wrote. “We’ve heard loud and clear that privacy settings and other important tools are too hard to find and that we must do more to keep people informed.”
In a nod to how the company views itself as a mobile destination, the company did a complete redesign of its settings on mobile, stating in the post, “Instead of having settings spread across nearly 20 different screens, they’re now accessible from a single place. We’ve also cleaned up outdated settings so it’s clear what information can and can’t be shared with apps.”
A lot of this thinking, according to sources, was informed by workshops the company has been holding with regulators and privacy experts over the past few months on how to design for privacy. One aspect the company is homing in on is the fact that legal announcements, those dreadful terms and conditions nobody reads but readily accepts, are an eyesore and in a language that’s difficult to parse. By changing how the settings look, the company believes, it can help people learn more about what data is being shared.
Facebook also introduced some tools it calls “Privacy Shortcuts,” basically a “menu where you can control your data in just a few taps with clearer explanations of how our controls work. The experience is now clearer, more visual, and easy-to-find.” Again, this is a more design-centric tool. Users can now add multiple layers of protection. Think two-factor authentication. Users can also now control the ads they see and manage who sees their profile and what they post. This is accessed via a single dashboard, a tool the company calls “Access Your Information.”
At the IAPP conference in Washington, D.C, where chief privacy officers from all kinds of companies gathered to talk about, well, privacy, Facebook’s deputy CPO, Rob Sherman, said that the company has been investing in building improved privacy experiences for a few months. “The things that we’re announcing today,” he said, “are a part of that, but I think it’s part of a broader reflection of the feedback we’re getting. … People are more sophisticated and individualized with what happens with their data, and this is something we want to respond to.”
Of course, all of this doesn’t quiet the voices asking why users’ data was shared in the first place. Facebook’s argument seemed to have been this: The point of Facebook is to personalize your experience, and data control and privacy should be sound and logical. It’s not like we autopopulate your profile with personal interests. That’s on you, buddy. And a lot of people use Facebook to log in to other apps. So, it’s not really our problem if you can’t keep track of what data you’re sending out into the world.
There’s a Silicon Valley logic to all of this. Blame the user, not the platform.
The tools introduced today, the company believes, address a shift in that thinking. So, instead of a user saying, “I didn’t want my data to be used that way,” Facebook is saying, “We want to check with you to make sure you’re good with that, and oh, by the way, you can easily change that if you want.”
Technology moves faster than policy or the law, on the one hand. And on the other, people don’t have as much time to adapt to new technology as they once did—with, for example, previous disruptors like TV and radio. We tend to focus on developing new products and features, not on how to innovate within privacy design. Companies like Facebook have to make sure they offer privacy controls while also educating people as they keep pace with newer technologies.
Egan and Beringer wrote in their post: “It’s also our responsibility to tell you how we collect and use your data in language that’s detailed, but also easy to understand. In the coming weeks, we’ll be proposing updates to Facebook’s terms of service that include our commitments to people. We’ll also update our data policy to better spell out what data we collect and how we use it. These updates are about transparency—not about gaining new rights to collect, use, or share data.”
The talk has begun, and now the answer has to come in action. It’s time.
Google and Facebook — the world’s biggest online ad companies — could see their share of U.S. digital advertising decline for the first time, thanks to slowing growth and competition from the likes of Amazon and Snap.
Google’s share is expected to decline from 38.6 percent last year to 37.2 percent in 2018, according to digital measurement firm eMarketer, while Facebook could shrink slightly from 19.9 to 19.6 percent.
Meanwhile, Amazon’s ad business is expected to grow to nearly 3 percent of the market in that same period from 2 percent last year, for a total of $2.9 billion in ad revenue for 2018. Snap’s share of the ad market is expected to grow from 0.6 percent last year to 1 percent this year. Both Amazon and Snap ad shares are expected to grow through 2020.
Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica data debacle could be more damaging to the company than any of its other recent missteps.
The news that the data analytics firm that helped Donald Trump get elected president was able to amass data on 50 million users without their permission has sent Facebook’s market value down nearly $50 billion since Friday. That’s the stock’s biggest two-day decline ever. As of market close on Tuesday, Facebook’s stock price was $168, about 10 percent lower than it was on Friday, according to FactSet.
Tuesday also marks Facebook’s biggest trading day since 2014, with upward of 129 million shares of Facebook stock changing hands.