April 11, 2018 1:36 pm
Updated: April 11, 2018 3:40 pm

A Facebook subscription fee? Tech expert says yes, Mark Zuckerberg isn’t too sure

WATCH: Would making users pay for Facebook fix its privacy problem? Cambridge Analytica scandal explained


It’s time for users fed up with Facebook‘s privacy policies to dish out some money and pay to use the social media site, a leading tech expert said Tuesday.

Jaron Lanier, a New York-based computer scientist who is often referred to as the “father of virtual reality,” made the comments during the TED 2018 conference in Vancouver.

WATCH: Mark Zuckerberg appears before U.S. Congress

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READ MORE: Facebook to reward users who flag data misuse, scams

Lanier explained that having users pay for subscriptions to Facebook would prevent the site from relying so heavily on ads.

“What started out as advertising really can’t be called advertising anymore,” Lanier said, explaining that he would describe it as “behavioral modification.”

“We cannot have a society in which, if two people wish to communicate, the only way that can happen is if it’s financed by a third person who wishes to manipulate them.”

Lanier urged tech giants such as Facebook and Google to look at new revenue models, pointing at Netflix’s monthly subscription fee as an example.

“Sometimes if you pay for stuff, things get better,” he said.

‘People like not having to pay for a service’: Zuckerberg 

But it appears Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg isn’t too keen on charging people to use the site.

While appearing before U.S. Congress to testify about the social media company’s current data scandal, Zuckerberg showed reluctance about the idea.

WATCH: Mark Zuckerberg appears before U.S. Senate committee

READ MORE: What to do if you’re caught up in the Cambridge Analytica scandal

“A number of people suggest that we should offer a version where people can not have ads if they pay a monthly subscription, and certainly we consider ideas like that,” Zuckerberg said Tuesday. “But overall, I think that the ads experience is going to be the best one.”

Zuckerberg added that part of Facebook’s appeal is that it is accessible for everyone.

WATCH: How Facebook data made psychological profiles

“I think in general, people like not having to pay for a service. A lot of people can’t afford to pay for a service around the world.”

“There will always be a version of Facebook that is free,” the billionaire businessman said during his Washington appearance.

READ MORE: 9 easy things you can do to beef up your privacy on Facebook

The idea of charging users to use Facebook recently gained attention, when one of the company’s top executives was asked about it during an interview.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg explained in an interview with NBC’s Today show that users may be able to opt out of sharing their information with advertisers.

“We don’t have an opt-out at the highest level,” Sandberg said. “That would be a paid product.”

Challenges in rolling out fees

University of Toronto assistant professor Alex Hanna, who studies social media and data collection, raised similar concerns as Zuckerberg over having a fee to use Facebook.

Hanna explained that Facebook users in countries such as Canada and the United States may eventually dish out money. But the fees might be too much for others around the world, and leave them vulnerable to privacy breaches.

“You might see some of those problems occur on a different scale, where those countries where people can’t pay are now the ones being targeted and more vulnerable.”

The professor added that social media sites with premiums are generally much smaller than Facebook, and have a more centralized user base. Given the size of Facebook, it would be very tricky to roll out subscription fees.

READ MORE: Two-thirds of Canadians don’t trust Facebook with their data, Ipsos poll shows

“It would be pretty hard to understand how they would do that at this scale,” Hanna said.

Another challenge for the company could be convincing users, many of whom say they don’t trust Facebook, to pay for the service.

An Ipsos poll released Tuesday found that about 67 per cent of Canadians don’t trust Facebook.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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