Dear Mr. Zuckerberg,
I created my Facebook account back in 2013 on the last day of my senior year in high school. At the time, I was pretty late to the Facebook party — I think I may have been the last kid in my grade to join, and I bet most of my friends entered high school with already bustling profiles.
When I signed up, I remember being struck by the tagline on the login page: “Join Facebook. It’s free, and always will be.”
Why is that, Mark?
I happen to believe that you’re providing a very valuable service — one that I would be more than happy to pay for — and I find it a bit strange that you won’t let me give you my money. After all, every other company on the planet provides a service in exchange for cash; so it’s not unreasonable to ask for proper compensation. What’s more, I think Facebook is really valuable to me, and you’ve done the hard work of making it the de facto social hub of the Internet. It’s now safe to assume that I can connect with nearly everyone I meet thanks to the platform you’ve built, and I get to use Facebook to find folks with similar interests, coordinate meetups irl, and stay in touch with those friends of mine from high school. You’ve done me a solid, Mark, and if you asked me to pay you $10 per month or $100 per year in order to use your service, I think that would be a very fair deal. I bet there are others who feel the same way!
And yet you won’t take my money…
No, instead you prefer to make money through something a lot more underhanded and convoluted: advertising.
I read that Facebook makes an average of $17 per user per year thanks to ads, and that you’re able to deliver more targeted ads thanks to the information you know about me (my demographics, my location, my taste in movies, my sexual and political orientations, whether I own a motorcycle — ya know, just the basic stuff). And in a quest to hone those advertising algorithms, you’ve hired thousands of engineers to better track my preferences and online activity.
I’m gunna go out on a limb here and say you’ve gone just a smidge too far, buddy.
Not only is the invasive data mining creepy, it’s downright harmful. By creating a pipeline for users to only see tailored content and only hear things they want to hear, you’ve built the world’s most sophisticated echo-chamber, replete with memes and emoji and cyber bullies. You’ve created a propaganda machine that the USSR would’ve drooled over.
You’ve amassed so much information about me. You know where I work, where I sleep, who I spend my time with, my religious practices, my political affiliations, who I’ve hooked up with, my predilection for vegetarian food, the square-footage of my home, my favorite sports in the Olympics, and so much more (maybe even data you’re not telling me). Seriously bro, buy me dinner first!
The amount of data is staggering — all for the sake of $17 per year. If the motivations were purely profit-based, the economics barely seem to work out, especially since there are folks like me who would be your willing customers at $10 per month. Also, you could scrap those highly-paid machine learning specialists and data scientists in favor of doubling down on user experience (seriously, for all its wealth and dominance and fame, I’m sometimes shocked by the poor UX that Facebook has).
My point here, Mark, is that you’ve already won. For better or for worse, you’ve done the hard part of becoming the default social network and making Facebookese the lingua franca of cyberspace. Now it’s time to move on. You don’t have to trick us into staying here — you can start treating us like legitimate business partners and genuine customers rather than data cows. You can let us pay for the service you’re providing in exchange for the freedom from your obsessive surveillance.
That’s why I’m proposing Facebook Pro.
Let me pay you $10 per month for Facebook Pro. In exchange, you return my right to privacy, data ownership, and an ad-free Facebook experience. You agree to not collect and share my data with 3rd parties , and you’ll also stop sending me promotional content from advertisers.
I know you promised that Facebook would be free for everyone forever, so maybe you could roll out Facebook Pro gradually for those of us who really want it. For those who are fine with being bombarded by ads and forfeiting their privacy, they can continue to use Facebook as is. I bet you’ll make much more money this way, and that you’ll eventually be able to lower your prices so that everyone can enjoy a creepless Internet for only a few bucks a year. You maintain the status as king of the hill, and we can comfortably go about our digital lives under your benevolent monarchy. Not a bad deal, eh?
But here’s the caveat, Mark: this is your last chance for a peaceful transition.
As much as I like you and the digital empire you’ve built, there are those of us who are less than thrilled. Some of us are still seething from the whole Cambridge Analytica fiasco; others are just annoyed every time there’s a data breach. Either way, you’ve left a few of your customers quite unhappy, and folks aren’t just trying to replace Facebook by building a better social media network — no, lots have already tried and failed. Instead, a bunch of us have gotten together to stage an intervention: and we’re rewriting the Internet in order to do it.
That’s right, some of us have become so outraged by the blatant misuse of our data that we’re saying enough is enough. Our data belongs to us, and we want to create a world in which no one has the power to distort or pervert that data. We’re tired of being spied upon, and so we’re building a new world wide web that respects the human right to privacy. You’ve heard that the blockchain revolution is coming, and I know some people still laugh or scratch their heads when they hear that word, but make no mistake, it’s approaching. It’s happening slowly, to be sure, but steadily — and faster than you might think. So, given that the new decentralized web is being built as we speak, and given that there are billions of dollars and countless engineers pouring into the ecosystem to accelerate its production, are you really prepared to take the risk by clinging to the status quo? The longer you entrench yourself, the more rebels you inspire. Just sayin’.
And now, Mark, I get to close this open letter by telling you about my ace in the hole. It’s the reason I’m so confident that the future we’re building is inevitable and it’s the reason I’m sending you this olive branch in the hopes that you’ll change your ways.
That ace? Enigma.
Enigma puts privacy at the forefront of the web — it seamlessly bakes data ownership into the fundamental architecture of how the Internet operates. Enigma is one of the missing pieces to the blockchain ecosystem, and by enabling truly secure digital ownership, it’s poised to be a critical tool in the arsenal of the revolution. I have the great honor of working with the Enigma team, and I feel so inspired to be contributing towards a better Internet. Everyday, when I see the technical mastery and dedication of the protocol engineers laid bare, I think to myself: Facebook doesn’t stand a chance.
So, there you have it. You either change Facebook by making it fair to your users and profit hugely in the process, or you risk being unseated by those that seek to unstitch the web you’ve woven. Plata o plomo.
It’s your choice, Mark.