What If You Could Pay Facebook To Keep Ads Out Of Your Newsfeed—And Protect Your Privacy?

Facebook makes a little over $11 a year per North American user. What if you could just pay Facebook $11 a year to stop showing you ads?

During Facebook's quarterly earnings announcement earlier this week, it revealed that in 2012 the company made $11.08, on average, per North American user. Facebook is in a bind here. On the one hand, the social giant wants and needs to rake in more revenue and advertisers. On the other hand, some of its users are concerned about the ads they are exposed to in their News Feeds—and how their private data is being used.

This got us wondering: What if Facebook users had the option of paying an annual fee to keep their data private and rid their News Feeds of ads?

The idea isn't as outlandish as it seems: Earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg was granted a patent for a concept that would allow a user to "replace advertisements or other elements that are normally displayed to visitors of the user's profile page that are otherwise controlled by the social networking system." And yesterday, a Facebook spokesperson told The Atlantic Wire that Facebook intends to add controls that will let users hide mobile ads.

So what if Facebook charged users in exchange for an ad-free News Feed? Eleven bucks a year (not much more than what music subscription services like Spotify charge premium users per month) is a hypothetical pittance to pay to keep Facebook from targeting ads at you based on your social graph. Introducing a version of the paid service that would grant users access to certain features—in this case, the ability to wipe ads from their News Feeds—could essentially steer Facebook's business, a service that has remained free since its inception in 2004, toward a freemium-based model. Most freemium-model services lure users in at the free tier, then tempt those users to pay for extra features. Facebook already has a massive userbase.

Of course, in any freemium business, not everyone pays to use the product—but even if a hypothetical $11 Facebook fee bumped up to, say, $20 a year, that's still roughly equal to just two months of Spotify Premium.

If a freemium model were successful for Facebook, it could give the company a neat way out of having to prove that ads do, in fact, drive actual sales. A freemium model could also prompt Facebook to design better premium-level features that users would have to pay to access—the kind of products, perhaps, that LinkedIn churns out, products that enhance (rather than detract from) the user experience.

Perhaps the idea of a paid opt-out-of-ads model wouldn't appeal to a wide audience. There's no way to know for sure how users would react.

[Image: Flickr user Kilayla Pilon]

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  • Tim Rosenblatt

    For those who have been on the web for a while, forums have used this business model for a while. A clever analyst would look at their conversion rates. Given that those sites didn't optimize their conversion as much as Facebook could, it would be an interesting baseline that Facebook would likely surpass.

  • Ideas2Us

    Isn't this pay-to-use business model, the same identical model which AOL began with in the 1990'2?   Have we come full circle now?

  • Chris Kelly

    It makes sense, but i cant see facebook doing this anytime soon. I think, for facebook right now, they would only do it if the advertising really wasnt working. Its like a change of business model. It may even have a negative impact for the casual user who may see it as audacious to voluntary offer a charge for something they are getting for free

  • Heather

    Hmm: the idea of collecting fees for social media services...

    Companies like FB become addicted to fast-moving new revenue streams easily and will eventually miss the fact that they are losing memberships and focus on how to squeeze more money out of that ARR forecast. Members will move on the the Next Big Social Media Site because the ads/fees are annoying.

    If FB wants to remain Numba One, I'd like to see them focus on their tech - both in terms of enhancing services customers want and deploying new ways of tracking marketing results. They could learn a thing or 3 from MySpace, Amazon and Walmart.

    LinkedIn is starting to pick at my nerves with the Freemium approach as well. LI was a great tool for navigating an org or locating real information about candidates in the HR market. Plus, I love the forums, the added connection endorsement features and how they solicit you to complete your profile. That said, it becomes less and less valuable as they start to offer fewer free pieces of information. At $40/month many professionals can't afford LinkedIn's Premium service. As they restrict more data and bomb users with ads, I won't be shocked if they fall from the top spot in professional social networking.