Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has testified to the US Congress in response to the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, and although the bulk of his speech was published well in advance, the following Q&A session with senators threw up some interesting ideas.
Each senator was given just five minutes, but used that time to give Zuckerberg a thorough grilling. Senator Orrin Hatch met Zuckerberg in 2010 as part of the Senate Republican High Tech Task Force – a committee that aims to maintain the position of the US as a leader in the global tech industry.
“You said back then that Facebook would always be free,” Hatch said during his five minutes. “Is that still your objective?”
“Senator, yes,” Zuckerberg said. “There will always be a version of Facebook that is free. It is our mission to try to help connect everyone around the world and bring the world closer together. In order to do that, we believe we need to deliver a service that everyone can afford.”
A wallet-opening experience
It's an interesting statement. Zuckerberg took several days to respond directly after the data scandal broke, and since then he has stuck firmly to the same message: Facebook is going to identify any other app developers that have dabbled in the same waters as Cambridge Analytica, and it's taking steps to better protect its users' data, and it's very sorry. This is the first time he's implied that different tiers of membership might be the way forward.
This mention of affordability could suggest a move towards a YouTube-style system, with an ad-driven version available for free, and an ad-free subscription service for users who are willing to pay.
The possibility of a premium version of Facebook also arose in an interview with COO Sheryl Sandberg earlier this week. NBC asked Sandberg if it would one day be possible for users to opt out of having their data shared with advertisers.
“We have different forms of opt-out,” Sandberg said. “We don’t have an opt-out at the highest level. That would be a paid product.”
Like Zuckerberg, Sandberg neither denied nor confirmed that such a product might be in the pipeline. So far Facebook has been extremely careful about its messaging, so we'll be keeping an eye out for any further news.