Blog Post

Why it’s time for Facebook to offer a “pay for privacy” feature

Facebook’s privacy policies are back in the news again, and they reflect a major improvement — to the company’s PR strategy. Otherwise, it’s just the same old deal in which Facebook users agree to hand over more personal information in exchange for the right to use the service for free.

[company]Facebook[/company] slipped in the latest changes on Thursday morning, while hyping a new series of cutesy illustrations and “you’re in charge” messages that purport to educate users on how the social network uses their data. Users still don’t really get a say in how that data is used, though, as the New York Times notes:

Also noticeably absent from the new privacy explanations is the simple fact that Facebook users have very little control over how their information is used in advertising. The company asserts the right to use anything you do on Facebook to help it target ads to you, both on and off the service.

Facebook even tracks what you do on other websites and will use that information for advertising, too, unless you explicitly opt out of the extra tracking — an option that requires a trip to a third-party website or soon, the tweak of a setting on your mobile phone.

For now, the biggest practical consequences of the latest privacy changes, as Re/code observes, is that Facebook gets to gobble new data about your payment habits and your location. If you don’t like the new arrangement, your option is the same as it has always been: don’t use Facebook.

If this is the case, then, why is Facebook going to such lengths to talk up its new privacy “features” — such as Charlie the “privacy dinosaur” — in the first place? On one hand, this is a smart public relations exercises that lets Facebook, rather than critics and consumer groups, be the first to define what the changes are all about. And on the other hand, the company is just complying with the law: in light of a 20-year order from the FTC, Facebook must tell people when it changes its policies or else face nasty fines.

Overall, the arrangements make sense. It’s a good thing that Facebook is openly discussing its privacy policies and reminding consumers that many of its new features will also require more data disclosures. Still, there’s also the reality that all of the messages about “privacy check-ups” and “you’re in charge” serve to obscure the basic bargain at work here: consumers must pay in data to use Facebook’s service.

A better solution, then, would be to give Facebook users the choice to pay with money instead of data. In practice, this could mean that Facebook users could pay a monthly subscription fee and, in return, the company would agree not to share information about their likes, location or history with advertisers. The fee might be set at $5 a month — which seems reasonable given that some estimates set the ad value of each Facebook user at $128 — and could be adjusted lower for users who agreed to give up more data.

In this scenario, everyone would win: Facebook would not have to worry about privacy concerns costing it revenue, while consumers would know that “you’re in charge” meant more than a slogan. Such a system, in which Facebook users could choose to pay for privacy, would be infinitely better than the current system of pandering and public relations exercises.

8 Responses to “Why it’s time for Facebook to offer a “pay for privacy” feature”

  1. First off, the comments of “don’t use it” are ignorant to the nature of modern jobs/business as many private businesses and non-profit institutions use facebook to network and/or make money. Secondly, paying for “private” data smacks of the old mafia shakedown of “pay us or else”. Lastly, I am usually opposed to government regulation, however, in this case I’m not sure anything less would suffice. Facebook must be made to tell you in a clear coherent manner (e.g. non-techie) who is using your data, how they got it, and to block it on a vendor by vendor basis. Anything short of this is just a painted pig hoping you don’t notice.

  2. I think the “pay for privacy” idea is a good one however I have the suspicion that those who would pay are likely of higher value to advertisers. So a $5 / month value may be an average, but for the ones who are willing to pay their value may actually be quite a bit higher.

  3. First off, who owns the data in the first place? Why would a user have to pay to have their data private? Second, Facebook would have to be able to turn on and off private data access on a data by data element on a per user basis for a specified period of time (while they were paying) – unlikely, but not impossible. Third, given Facebook’s history, would the user trust them even if they are paying – would there be loop holes whereby certain paid for private data would still be available for certain uses by Facebook (most certainly, as this is how they make money). Fourth, if you want privacy, stop using Facebook and WhatsApp for that matter, as they both “gather” so much information about you, keep your posts and messages on their servers … and you have no idea – use other products that are private and don’t keep your messages and posts (or at least don’t mine them) (ex. RakEM, Path).

  4. I disagree. Pay pal sucks! It couldn’t tap into my bank account even with the information they need… I’ve tried it. And poor people don’t carry credit cards so that let’s them out. And there are others who believe Face book isn’t worth paying for. It’s just a glorified chat room. And games you can play for free elsewhere on the Internet. It’s full of Hackers and viruses and has no business tracking anyone!

    For those who use Facebook, there’s a program you can get for free on-line called:’SystenCare 8’… It shows you who’s tracking you from where, and stops them in their tracts. Eleswise, now I know how people feel when you just dish out facts that are inherently false one way or another. Else-wise, informative for Facebook fans.

  5. Steve Dallas

    So, the high value high income users would pay to exempt themselves, and Facebook would be left to analyze data from low income users? I’m not sure that would be as compelling for advertisers.

  6. preston Pope Jr

    $5.00 per month is to high, you will hive people say they are going to pay, but never will..
    make it simple. $1.00 a month is fine that way poorer people will have a better chance to
    pay. that way people will pay more than one month at a time for service.