What if we paid for Facebook?

Geoffrey Fowler asks that question, here is one bit from his analysis:

You can actually put a dollar figure on how much we’re worth to the social network. Facebook collected $82 in advertising for each member in North America last year. Across the world, it’s about $20 per member. Facebook the company is valued at about $450 billion because investors believe it will find even more ways to make money from collecting data on its 2 billion members.

You might imagine charging Americans $82 a year, though at that price the overall network would be smaller and of lower value to users.  Alternatively, Zeynep Tufekci wrote (NYT):

Internet sites should allow their users to be the customers. I would, as I bet many others would, happily pay more than 20 cents per month for a Facebook or a Google that did not track me, upgraded its encryption and treated me as a customer whose preferences and privacy matter. [She earlier had cited 20 cents per month as their profit per customer…TC takes all of these numbers with a grain of salt.]

Like Jonathan Swift, I have a simple proposal: don’t use “Facebook the service,” and conduct all of your social networking on WhatsApp, which by the way is owned by “Facebook the company.”  WhatsApp is fully encrypted, and it has no algorithms and indeed few bells and whistles of any kind.  From each person, messages are stacked in sequential order.  You can send photos and you can delete content, permanently I believe.  You can set up groups.  There is some kind of microphone function, though I’ve never figured it out.  And did I mention it is totally free?  Zero ads too.  Nor is the page cluttered, nor do you get these little notifications: “You have 37 messages, 49 notifications, 23 friend requests, 81 pokes, and a partridge and a pear tree,” etc.

Everything you are asking for exists now, from “Facebook the company,” though it is not “Facebook the service.”

Problem solved!  Oh, wait, you’re not interested…?  What should I infer from that?

Addendum: I do get that if everyone switched from “Facebook the service” to WhatsApp, the cross-subsidy would diminish and the terms of WhatsApp would change.  But still, at the margin, and in the meantime, plenty of people — including you — could switch and I expect this deal can remain the same.  Be a free rider!  Our democracy may depend on it.


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