Facebook Inc has been conducting market research in recent weeks to determine whether an ad-free version paid by subscriptions would spur more people to join the social network, according to people familiar with the matter. The company has studied such an option in the past, but now there’s more internal momentum to pursue it in light of Facebook’s recent privacy data scandal, the people said. The plans aren’t solid and may not go forward, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. Facebook declined to comment on the possibility of a subscription-based ad-free service.
Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg has long considered such an alternative — not to replace the social network’s business model, but to remove a common reason people give for leaving the service. The company generated virtually all its $41 billion in revenue last year by selling ads targeted with user data. Internal company research in past years concluded consumers wouldn’t be receptive to a subscription option, seeing it as Facebook being greedy and asking for money for something it said would always be free, the people said.
Now, Facebook thinks consumer sentiment may be changing. The company is facing a crisis of public trust after a developer gave personal information on millions of Facebook users to Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm that worked on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. News of the data leak spurred questions about the information Facebook collects on people for ads, and whether users are tracked and targeted in ways they don’t expect or understand.