Facebook is testing a new feature which allows people to send Facebook messages to people they do not know for $1. Currently, Facebook allows users to block messages from people they don’t know, but it’s unclear whether that option will still be available under the pay-for-contact messaging system.
Facebook justified the change as a way to help users, saying “imposing a financial cost on the sender may be the most effective way to discourage unwanted messages and facilitate delivery of messages that are relevant and useful.”
I suppose “relevant and useful” is how Facebook refers to spam that will earn the company billions per year and boost its under-performing share price.
Facebook reports more than 1 billion users. For a conservative estimate, let’s project that paid messaging eventually reaches about half of users (500 million people), who each receive an average of 3 paid messages per month, from direct marketers, cyberstalkers or a (rare) friendly acquaintance. That amounts to $1.5 billion in revenue per month. So, once this paid-messaging service is up and running, it’s safe to say the company will make billions annually from selling access to its users.
But what is the cost of monetizing electronic access to people you don’t know?
1. Personal Contact With People You Don’t Know Enables Cyber-Stalking
The Facebook release didn’t specify whether this feature will allow people to target users younger than 18, who are especially susceptible to predators and stalkers.
Of course, many adults are the recipients of unwanted, repeated and creepy contact. As a case in point, a few months ago The Guardian published an article about a surge of people using social media to stalk doctors with whom they’ve become infatuated. Claire Macaulay, a representative of the Medical Defense Union, told the publication:
Members report being bombarded with messages to their mobiles or email, and Twitter or Facebook accounts can, in some ways, be even more intrusive than receiving a stream of letters.
Moreover, we already are aware that sexual predators abuse Facebook for access to victims. From ABC News:
[Former New York] State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo on Monday announced an investigation into the popular online social networking website Facebook after undercover investigators posing as children were allegedly solicited by sexual predators.
Cuomo said that during the past month, undercover agents posing as underage users were solicited by adult sexual predators, and the users could easily access pornographic images. Cuomo said investigators contacted Facebook posing as upset parents, but their complaints were often ignored.
2. Paid Messaging Gives Heyday To Direct Marketing Companies
A marketing blogger explained how paid messaging on the career networking site LinkedIn has led sales piranhas to “game” the system:
I don’t know about you, but I’m receiving lots of InMail promotions every week from contacts who should know better – and as you’ll see below, people who aren’t contacts but have learned to “game” the system.
Just this week, in addition to valid personal exchanges, I’ve received:
- A blanket invitation to a webinar
- A couple of conference announcement
- A handful of straight-on, blasted-out sales pitches
- Six invitations that were direct sales pitches from people I’m not connected to
The paid-contact trial will start with a “small number of people” in the U.S., announced Facebook. Users selected for the test will receive only one message per week – however, since this is a profit-driven move, the frequency of contact is likely to increase over time if Facebook continues with the paid-messaging feature.
What do you think about Facebook selling access to you for $1 per message?