Would Facebook let me pay them $5?

by Peter Rojas

According to documents Facebook filed ahead of its IPO, their average revenue per global user works out to just under five bucks a year. That's a number that'll surely grow over time (and in fact it has to, if they're going to be worth the $100 billion or so they're expected to IPO at), but the very fact that there is a specific dollar amount I'm worth to them made me wonder: why can't I just pay Facebook that amount per year and opt out of them sharing my personal data? (Not to mention get out of having to look at ads or deal with any lame marketing.) I already spend a lot more than $5 per year on a lot of services, so it certainly wouldn't be a burden for me to do so, and I'd surely gain a lot from protecting my privacy. I know the answer, or at least I think I know the answer, which is that offering a premium membership like that would only make it glaringly for obvious for everyone the business Facebook is really in, and that tension between appearances and reality might undermine the whole operation.

Now I quit using Facebook a couple of years ago, and don't miss it at all, but I certainly see the value in having a platform for sharing stuff with family and friends and tracking my social relationships. The fundamental problem is that Facebook's business model is to leverage those relationships and the content and data that flow out of them in order to create a gigantic online advertising and marketing machine. It's a cliche to say it, and we've all probably read this a few times by now, but with Facebook the users are the products being sold.

So if Facebook won't take my $5 in exchange for protecting my privacy, maybe there's an opportunity for someone else to build an alternative. You'd have to do something really difficult, and that's require people to pay to use it, but you'd also be building a business where the users are your customers, and you'd be focused on protecting their privacy and data, rather than selling it, and at the end of the day you'd be answerable to them (or at least their pocketbooks). I'm not holding my breath, but ultimately we need to be aware of the trade-offs we're making and that sometimes you have to be the customer if you want to be treated like.