Facebook would be "a paid product" if the world's largest social media network wasn't collecting any user data, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said in a Thursday interview with Today. While the company allows users to opt out of several forms of data collection, "an opt-out at the highest level" doesn't exist because it would eliminate Facebook's sole business model, the executive suggested. While Ms. Sandberg didn't elaborate on the matter, her comments strongly indicate that Facebook isn't considering a premium subscription tier for users who want to avoid having any of their data collected at all.
Facebook generated $6.18 in revenue per user over the fourth quarter of 2017, according to the company's latest consolidated financial report. The majority of the social media giant's income still comes from North America, with a single user from the United States or Canada now yielding it $26.76 per quarter. A theoretical premium subscription service could hence cost in the ballpark of $10 per month for consumers in the company's home country if Facebook was aiming to maintain its turnover amid such a transition and it's still unclear whether that kind of a business model would be more or less profitable than an ad-based model. Facebook leverages user data to serve targeted advertising and hence acts similarly to Google, with its co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg recently insisting the company does not sell any information about its users to advertisers. Instead, Facebook is selling a platform that leverages that vast knowledge base to deliver advertising without in any way helping marketers find out the actual individuals they are targeting.
The recent Cambridge Analytica controversy that also prompted Ms. Sandberg's decision to agree to be interviewed by Today still saw an unauthorized third party harvest data of up to 87 million people across the globe, with Facebook claiming it's now cracking down on such behavior and will be preventing misuse of its APIs moving forward. Even though the company itself doesn't sell or otherwise offer user data to advertisers, developers have long been capable of collecting significant volumes of such information through apps such as Facebook Connect-powered logins. The problem is understood to have been exacerbated by a lack of privacy-conscious thinking on the part of users, many of whom are still agreeing to all data permission requests from various apps to this date, according to some industry watchers.