Privacy at a Price: How Meta's New Model Favors the Wealthy

Only the Rich Have a Right to Privacy

A subscription model that offers users the ability to opt out of targeted advertising raises critical questions about privacy rights and economic inequality.

Nov 2023

If you’re rich you can opt out of seeing ads on Instagram, Facebook and X (formerly Twitter).

Meta says it very clearly that with your subscription you are opting out of your data being used to be advertised to. So it depends on how deep your pockets are if you have a right to be advertised to or not.

Funny enough there appears to be a dichotomy where wealthier individuals, who are typically more attractive to advertisers due to their higher purchasing power, have the option to pay for privacy – a luxury not afforded to all users.

Previously we talked about what is our data worth.

And now that we are being forced to pay to protect our data, it feels like it is not in the best interest of us, leaving a bitter taste of “are we being overcharged for protecting our privacy?

The Difference Between Social Media and Streaming Companies

Do only the rich have a right to privacy? Or is it solely a question of user experience (UX)?

Because when companies like Meta introduce a subscription model to opt out of being advertised to the question arises what happens if you want to opt out but cannot pay yet another subscription?

But where Netflix was subscription first and then introducing ad-supported tiers, Meta was “free” first and is now introducing a subscription tier. Not so much because it wants to, but because it does so strategically.

Social Media has Become a Public Space of Expression

Social media companies have fought for a long time not to be recognized as media companies. Because this way they cannot be held liable for the actual content its users post since they are not journalists and must not adhere to a publication process that the social media company neither imposes nor controls.

While social media companies have long resisted being labeled as 'media companies' to avoid content liability, they have undeniably become pivotal public spaces for discourse and expression.

Today, they are but platforms-just as they want to. At the same time they have become so much more. They have circumvented becoming the publications but evolved into the marketplace, the forum as the romans said, the agora as the Greeks said, a space for public expression.

With being a space of expression for public discourse certain rules of participating must apply to be of service. Being able to hear, as well as being heard. Being able to say something, as well as being able to listen.

Reach and Algorithmic Incentives

But when the public discourse is weighed not only by reach and algorithmic incentives but also by whom you allow to be advertised to… this has implications.

For one it leads to changes in user behavior and user perception when non-paying users start increasingly view the platform as a commercial space.

But the broader societal and cultural impacts are far more important.

Impact on Democratic Discourse: The quality of democratic discourse could suffer if a significant portion of the population is subjected to algorithmically and commercially driven content. Like, do you get election ads or will you not?

Digital Literacy and Critical Thinking: The divide might necessitate stronger digital literacy skills, especially for non-paying users who need to navigate a more ad-heavy and potentially manipulative information environment. We know that bad news make for better advert placement environments.

Call for Regulation: This situation might prompt calls for even more stringent regulations on how social media companies handle advertising, user data, and privacy.

Additionally, it will impact the long-term evolution of social media platforms as previously discussed.

Economic Status and Privacy Rights

The intersection of economic status and privacy rights is a critical aspect of our emerging digital economy.

In scenarios like the one presented by Meta's subscription model, there appears to be a bigger problem than being a subscription to a source of “user generated entertainment”.

Economic Barrier to Privacy: By offering a paid, ad-free and potentially data-privacy-oriented option, the model inherently creates a barrier where only those who can afford the subscription fee can opt out of targeted advertising. This situation could create a "privacy divide" where privacy becomes a commodity available to those with the means to pay for it.

Digital Inequality: This model could contribute to a broader issue of digital inequality, where economic status dictates the level of privacy and control one has over their personal data. It raises ethical concerns about whether privacy should be a fundamental right accessible to all or a premium service available only to those who can afford it.

Value of Data Across Economic Spectrums: It's also important to note that while wealthier individuals might be more desirable targets for advertisers, the data from all users, regardless of their economic status, holds value. Advertisers often seek a diverse audience, and insights from a broad range of users can be valuable for different types of advertising campaigns.

Regulatory Implications: This situation also poses questions for regulators. Should there be regulations ensuring that privacy is not just for those who can afford it? The EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and similar laws aim to protect personal data for all individuals, but the emergence of paid privacy models might challenge or circumvent the spirit of these regulations.

Long-Term Business and Social Impact: There's a broader discussion about the long-term implications of such models on society and business. Will they lead to a tiered internet experience, where the wealthy have a different (and more private) experience than others? How will this affect social dynamics and perceptions of digital platforms?

In summary, the introduction of a paid subscription model for ad-free and more private experiences on platforms like Facebook and Instagram raises important questions about the nature of privacy in the digital age, the ethical considerations of making privacy a paid feature, and the broader societal implications of such a model.

It's a vivid example of how technological and business innovations can intersect with, and potentially challenge, societal values and norms.

In this case a change that the EU forced Meta into.

Nov 2023
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