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Is Facebook thinking about charging money for access to its social network?

Published Aug 28th, 2019 6:35PM EDT
Facebook Free vs. Paid
Image: Richard Drew/AP/Shutterstock

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The morning of August 7th was a morning like any other. The only thing special happening in the tech world on that day was the Galaxy Note 10 Unpacked event. But even that wasn’t such a big deal, considering that everything about Samsung’s new flagship had leaked well in advance of the show.

Little did we know that Facebook, early that morning, may have made a simple and unobservable change to its website that would puzzle us weeks later. Fast-forward to late August, and now we’re wondering if Facebook is suddenly going to start charging us to sign up for its social media network in the future.

If you’ve ever been annoyed at Facebook for the massive power it wields, then you should know you’re also part of the problem. Facebook’s social network became such a hit because it was a free product. Over the years, we discovered that Facebook was milking everything it could from its customers and even those who didn’t sign up to line its pockets. That’s the kind of compromise we users often agree to. We turn a blind eye or outright agree to a company selling our data to get access to a service.

Will Facebook ever sell its product as an actual subscription? There’s nothing to suggest so for the time being, although a more privacy-focused company could always consider it. Not just because some people would pay, but also to appease the governments around the world it upset time and again.

It was Italian blog SmartWorld that noticed a huge change on the page where you sign up for a Facebook acccount. It’s a page that you probably never see, because it’s likely that you’re logged when you visit the site. Even if you do see it, you might not have spotted the change yourself. Here’s what’s changed:

Image source: SmartWorld

On top, we have the Facebook log-in/sign-up page from January 1st that says: “It’s free, and it will always be.” The second screenshot, dated August 28th, has new text that reads: “It’s fast and simple.” Of course, the internet never forgets, and that’s why we looked at the Wayback Machine records for the same page.

It turns out that Facebook changed that simple line of text at some point between 6:00 AM and 7:00 AM on August 7th. The changes can be easily observed on local Facebook in other markets, with Chrome’s auto-translation service confirming it. This is a snapshot of a German version of the page, taken before the change occurred:

Image source: Wayback Machine

And here’s the “after” screenshot the internet archiving service saved an hour later:

Image source: Wayback Machine

It’s unclear why Facebook no longer thinks it’s worth mentioning on the sign-up page that the service is and will remain free. Also, it’s unclear if Facebook will ever charge for Facebook or any of its other services.

Facebook operates WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram, and plans to unite these products with the help of a backend service that will deliver cross-platform, end-to-end encrypted messaging and calls. By doing this, Facebook will have fixed two of its major problems. First, it’ll provide secure encryption across services, and better compete against rivals. Second, it will have a stronger defense against any calls from Congress for breaking the company up. But tighter encryption will make it impossible for Facebook to collect some data, which means whatever ads end up in chat apps will be less valuable.

Of course, that’s all speculation based on a tiny change Facebook made to a page regular Facebook users hardly get to see. Maybe there’s no real change in the works, aside from that motto. But maybe there is.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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