For several months, rumours claiming that popular social networking website, Facebook, will shortly begin charging its users access fees have been vigorously circulating. While most of these “warnings” circulate via Facebook itself, some versions also circulate via email and other social networking websites. The rumours have caused much consternation among Facebook members and a number of “protest” Facebook groups decrying the supposed new charges have been established.
However, all of these rumours are untrue and should not be taken seriously. Facebook has repeatedly denied that it has any intention of charging users for its basic services. A January 2010 Telelgraph.co.uk article notes:
A spokesman for the company said: “We have no plans to charge users for Facebook’s basic services. Facebook is a free service for its 350 million users.”
Moreover, when Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg was asked in an April 2009 BusinessWeek interview if the company had intentions to begin charging users, she replied:
The answer is no, we are not planning on charging a basic fee for our basic services. Once again, that question stems from people thinking we’re growing so quickly, we’re running out of money. We’re growing really quickly, but we can finance that growth. We’re not going to charge for our basic services.
And elsewhere in the article, she notes:
We’ve actually just confirmed that we expect to grow revenue 70% year-over-year in this year, obviously a very tough economic environment. We’ve been profitable on an [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization] basis for five consecutive quarters, and that’s ongoing. We’re on a very clear path to cash-flow profitability. So we have a business model, and our ad business is working, and working quite well.
Thus, claims in many of the rumours that Facebook is not generating enough profit from its current ad-based business model and so, therefore, must start charging users is simply untrue.
The various Facebook groups that have been established – ostensibly to register protest against the supposed upcoming charges – have attracted hundreds of thousands of members. One such group, entitled “NO, I WILL NOT PAY £3.99 A MONTH TO USE FACE BOOK FROM JULY 9TH 2010!” had a membership of well over 600,000 at the time of writing. The amount of the supposed monthly fee suggested in these groups tends to vary considerably as does the date on which the charge will supposedly be implemented. Regardless of the details, all such groups are perpetrating misinformation and joining them is therefore utterly pointless. Many of the groups falsely claim that Facebook has officially announced its intention to begin charging. Others make the absurd and equally false claim that the company has agreed to shelve plans to implement a charge on the condition that the group gains a specified number of members.
A few of the people who started such groups may have done so because of a genuine if unfounded, belief that the charging rumours were true. However, it appears that many others are motivated by nothing more than a callous and calculated desire to create a Facebook group with a very large membership. A large membership group might provide the group owner with increased online status or exposure, at least in his or her own opinion. They might also be used for more sinister purposes such as spamming or malware distribution. At least one of the protest groups I have seen – again with a membership in the hundreds of thousands – peppered the group page with large numbers of advertising links to third party websites. Another, which supposedly protested against a plan to charge users $14.99 per month, featured links to a bogus website that contained dangerous malware. Both these groups, and a number of the other “protest” groups have now been closed down. Still, some remain active and it is likely that still more will be created in the coming weeks.
A few commentators have made much of the fact that Facebook spokespeople are apparently careful to qualify their denials by stipulating that they have no intention of charging for “basic” services. The “basic” qualifier has been seen by some as evidence that the company might actually be intending to charge for at least some of its “non-basic” services. In the past, other companies such as Microsoft have offered fee-based “premium” versions of their online services with varying degrees of success. Thus, it is conceivable that, by using the qualifier, Facebook is leaving the door open for the implementation of such a “premium” service at some point in the future. But, there is no credible evidence to suggest that the company has any current plans to implement such a service, and, if it ever does, Facebook users would certainly be informed via official announcements and promotions.
Moreover, even in the quite unlikely event that Facebook performed an unexpected about-face and DID impose a monthly fee for its basic services, you can rest assured that current members would be notified well in advance via official company communication channels not via vague and unconfirmed rumours.
Thus, be wary of joining any group that claims that Facebook is about to begin charging users. By joining you will achieve nothing more than inflate the group’s membership (and possibly the ego of its creator) for no good reason. You might also inadvertently expose your computer to malware via links featured in such bogus groups.