If you wanted a Facebook free of ads, you’d have to pony up and pay for it.
Facebook is not offering a paid service to users, of course, because that would upend it’s entire digital-ad economy business model for which it has become the world’s leading purveyor, but in a recent interview with NBC’s "Today" show, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg flatly stated Facebook's inextricable love affair with user data, saying the company "depends on your data."
The interview comes amid Facebook's largest media firestorm to date: revelations that it allowed creepy President Donald Trump-linked data firm Cambridge Analytica to pilfer user data to their own political ends.
That incident is what landed Sandberg in the "Today" show studios this week as well as an interview with NPR, both of which found her putting a healthy amount of spin on Facebook's user-data-hungry business model.
In the NPR interview, Sandberg tried to make an equivalence between Facebook's livelihood and that of TV and radio.
"And on the business model we have an ads-based business model, just like TV, just like radio," she told NPR. "Our content's available to anyone for free because it's ad-supported. And that we feel really proud of, and we're really — we think it's really important."
Setting aside the pretentious virtue signaling about their service being "free," Sandberg's TV and radio analogy falls short in a crucial way: Facebook collects user data, TV and radio don't. That puts them at the forefront of a new kind of business in which data is the world's most valuable resource, much like oil once was.
It also puts the company in a position where their very source of power, data-driven ads, is also the source of their problems.
Sandberg is clearly unrepentant about the core of the business model: collect data on its more than 2 billion users, and use that information to push little personalized billboards to be flashed in the eyes of target users.
That, as it happens, is quite similar to the business model of Cambridge Analytica.