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In a nutshell: Meta might be gearing up to pilot ad-free versions of Facebook and Instagram in the European Union. Insiders have leaked that the social media giant plans to offer subscriptions to its two platforms to remove ads and keep users' data confidential.
Three anonymous sources with knowledge of the matter told The New York Times that Meta will soon roll out subscription plans for EU Facebook and Instagram users. The subscription prices are unknown but would allow paying users to keep their data confidential. The move is in response to recently enacted EU privacy laws and policies targeting social media. Meta hopes that offering Europeans a paid alternative will be enough to keep officials off of its back. However, regulators may still view the ad-based versions as being too intrusive.
Since Meta is using the options to placate EU governing bodies, it will likely not offer subscriptions in the US, but you never know. Lawmakers in the US talk a big game about privacy, but it doesn't seem like they do much about intrusive social media advertising or internet scraping. Congress has held multiple hearings over the years, particularly after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but has taken minimal action.
Unsurprisingly, Meta declined to comment on the leak.
Although it is not the first time a social media website has offered a subscription, it is a big move considering Facebook and Twitter's size. As of August 11, Facebook had over 2.9 billion monthly active users. Likewise, Instagram users totaled 2.35 billion. These numbers are global counts, but we can still get an idea of how much Meta stands to earn from paid accounts if only a minimal percentage takes up the offer.
The EU is comprised of 450 million people across 27 countries. Suppose only a third of the population (150 million) opt for subscriptions, and Meta conservatively charges $10 monthly for a Facebook/Instagram bundled subscription. That's a potential $1.5 billion monthly revenue stream. It's a far cry from the $7.3 billion per year that Meta makes from advertising in the EU, but that's not going entirely away.
If past hoaxes about Facebook charging users are anything to go by, most users will balk at paying for Facebook and Instagram and stay on the ad-supported version, privacy be damned. Plus, these are just rough conservative guesstimates. Current subscription trends swing a Facebook/Instagram bundle more toward the $15-per-month mark. Rest assured that Meta's beancounters will have the subscription tiers dialed in to limit advertising losses as much as possible.