Facebook is not even 10 years old, but it is a precocious youngster. It claims to have 1/7th of the world’s population as registered individual users. It’s users have uploaded over 50 billion photos. In May of 2012, the company was valued at $104 billion upon it’s IPO, which was 100 times more than the company made in revenue, and put it in the top 1% of companies in the S&P 500.
Facebook, however, always faced one large criticism from economic pundits: How was it going to make money off the mobile industry? The world is leaving laptops behind, and increasingly using phones and other mobile devices to access the internet. Facebook introduced advertisements to the website’s new feeds a while ago. However, the mobile application was plagued with poor functionality and a dislike by users, and only recently started featuring advertisements. In November of 2012, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook had a plan for mobile profitability; he was, however, vague on what that plan was.
Now we know: Facebook has struck a deal with Samsung and HTC to offer “Facebook phones.” These phones will come with a pre-installed operating system that showcases the user’s Facebook feed on the home screen, known as Home. No more launching the Facebook application if you want to see what your friends are up to: Just glance at your phone and there is a constant stream of post and photos from your friends. For those that use Facebook for everything, this seems like the next best thing since, well, Facebook.
This ease comes with a cost – or will. At the moment Home will be free of advertisements, but that won’t last for long. Facebook plans to eventually integrate ads, which means companies will be paying Facebook huge bucks so their products will be the first thing you see when you pick up your phone. Right now little has been said about how this will work – or exactly if Samsung and HTC will share in the money. The potential for profit, though, is huge: How much would you pay to have a commercial for your new widget be sent directly to 300 million people at once, and have them be able to buy it with the touch of a screen?
This is great for Facebook – and its investors – no doubt. It won’t be so great for us ordinary people, though. Facebook is not known as a champion of user privacy: The number one reason people quit using Facebook is due to privacy security. I’m personally not thrilled about the aspect of having the home page of my phone be advertising space. Admittedly, I could avoid buying any new “Facebook phone,” but chances are, with the popularity of Facebook on phones (192 million Android and 147 million iPhone users have downloaded the Facebook app), there is a big chance Home will be available, or even pre-installed, on all future phones. In the past, Facebook has provided ways to ‘opt-out’ of new features, but it is never easy to figure out; I will wager that fact is most likely on purpose: If people turn off the Home feature, then it loses it’s market value.
Facebook has done a great job making internet socializing easy and rewarding for a majority of the world – so good for Facebook. I don’t begrudge them success. I have a Facebook account (most of you are probably reading this through Facebook’s link to WordPress), but I really don’t use it much. I’d like to get rid of it, but there will be a cost: Many of my friends, despite having my email & phone number, only stay in touch with me through the Facebook Message feature, or invite me to their parties through the Events feature. Essentially, most of society is assimilating Facebook into it’s daily, normal functioning: There are 168 million Facebook users in the US, which is more than 50% of the US population. I feel, right now, resistance if futile: Like the Borg on Star Trek, Facebook will continue to grow and swallow up the world, and once inside people will forget there was a life without Facebook.
And that scares me.