Pay to Get Rid of Ads on Social Media? Consumers Say Maybe, Maybe Not

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Nearly half of consumers may be extremely or moderately concerned about the security of their information on social media, and only three to 5% of consumers are not at all concerned about that. But that does not necessarily translate to widespread support for a different social network business model not based on the sharing of personal information with advertisers.

That is one major takeaway from a survey of 1,002 social media users by VPN company Twingate. Consumers were surveyed via Amazon MTurk. When asked if they’d rather pay for social media platforms or use them for free with the understanding that the platforms would use their information for personalized ad targeting, 71.4% opted for the status quo.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents were millennials, 27% Gen X, 10.5% Baby Boomers, and the rest Gen Z or the Silent Generation. The age groups diverged slightly on how much they trusted social media. Baby Boomers were most concerned about their data, followed by Gen X and millennials. Nearly 21% said their data had been compromised on social platforms.

TikTok was the least-trusted platform. Thirty-eight percent said they did not trust the Chinese-owned app to keep their information secure. This was followed by Facebook, whose reputation has been damaged by a seemingly never-ending series of privacy snafus (36% distrust), and Snapchat (26%). LinkedIn scored best at 13.8% distrust.

The doubts about TikTok come at a time when the Trump administration has floated going so far as to ban the app in the US due to rising tensions with Beijing. But TikTok, which said it has an American CEO and would never provide user data to the Chinese Communist Party, is not the only social platform under fire. Facebook is facing a boycott of major advertisers including Unilever and Best Buy.

Yet TikTok and Facebook provide powerful examples of the limits of critiques of social media’s trustworthiness and commitment to privacy. Facebook commands a user base of two billion. TikTok is the most popular entrant to the social media market in years, projecting $1 billion in ad revenue this year.

What’s more, the Twingate survey suggests that while only 2.9 (Boomers) to 4.3% (millennials) of consumers enjoy targeted ads — admittedly, the survey was conducted by a VPN site with some interest in touting privacy concerns — nearly half of Boomers (49.5%) are not at all willing to pay for social media. Forty percent of millennials and 36% of Gen X said the same.

I don’t want to be too cynical about consumers’ unwillingness to leave apps or pay to transform apps that they don’t trust. Nearly 60% of respondents overall said they’d be at least somewhat willing to pay for social media, and that figure could likely climb if a small monthly subscription fee were added. Twingate contends that Facebook/Instagram would only need to charge users $2.07/month, and Twitter $1.61/month, to earn via subscription fees what they earn via ad revenue. Respondents said they would pay $5.24 and $4.75/month, respectively.

But inertia and apathy are strong, money is even tighter outside the US market, and surveillance advertising, and the size of its audience, are the X-factors that catapulted Facebook to the top of the global corporate order. I’d bet Google, Facebook, and, increasingly, Amazon, will be slow to give up the surveillance business models and walled-garden ecosystems that have made them this century’s most powerful corporate actors.

Joe Zappa is the Managing Editor of Street Fight. He has spearheaded the newsroom's editorial operations since 2018. Joe is an ad/martech veteran who has covered the space since 2015. You can contact him at [email protected]