If you've been using Threads, Meta's rival to X/Twitter, you might have noticed something different from your other socials. Unlike Instagram and Facebook, which pepper your feeds with ads, Threads doesn't. Wouldn't it be great if all your social networks were like that?
According to the NYT, Meta is considering offering a similar ad-free experience on Facebook and Instagram, for a price.
According to the NYT [paywall], Meta is considering paid, ad-free subscriptions in Europe and possibly more widely in order to quell concerns over data privacy, something EU regulators take very seriously. Irish regulators have already fined the company $1.3 billion for breaking EU data protection laws, and Meta has considered multiple options including making targeted advertising opt-in rather than opt-out.
EU privacy laws are also the main reason Threads isn't currently available in Europe: UK users can only get the app because the UK is no longer a member of the European Union. Its current ad-free status is strictly temporary.
Meta may not go ahead with a paid ad-free service, but if it does you might find that when it launches, the free versions of Facebook and Instagram get noticeably more ad-packed. For a frightening vision of the free-socials future, check out today's Twitter, AKA X.
When free services aren't worth the money
When you have a free service and a paid one, there are two ways to get people to go for the latter: you can make the paid service a lot better, or you can make the free version much worse. I'd argue that on Twitter, the latter option is the preferred one.
Leaving aside the wider context of Musk's ownership and focusing just on the user experience, it's fair to say that Twitter has gone from bad to worse. Ads are thrown in with gay abandon pretty much everywhere, and the For You feed appears to be undergoing yet another algorithm change to saturate your feed with pretty much anything other than the content you want to see.
Whatever the change is, it's new and it's terrible: what began with unwanted recommendations of content about wrestling, football, wrestling, football and more wrestling this weekend ended up filling my feed with far-right politicians and the very worst of the blue tick brigade. The whole point of algorithmic recommendations is that they're supposed to recommend things you'll like; Twitter's system appears in my feed at least to be doing exactly the opposite.
Twitter is an extreme example of a service that really, really, really wants you to pay for a subscription, I know. But you can see a less extreme version of the same thing on YouTube, which definitely feels more ad-packed since YouTube Premium launched a few years ago. And if you've been watching any FAST (Free Ad-Supported Television) lately you're probably familiar with how adverts in movies appear to be chucked in entirely at random without the slightest concerns about interrupting the moment or scene. I hope that if Meta does indeed launch a paid version of its key products, it doesn't also make its free products worse.