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Facebook to profit from spam

Nigel Morris-Co...

Hot on the heels of Facebook's decision to reduce user's ability to hide their public profile comes the commercial reason why: Facebook is testing a system that will enable non-contacts to send messages to users if they pay USD1. Thanks for the spam but will users be allowed to say "No thanks?" And will FB breach the Can Spam Act and, even, risk the company and its officers being prosecuted for money laundering?

LinkedIn has a fine-grained messaging system that allows users to clearly define who may send messages to users through their internal system.

Certain types of message may be sent only by paying customers but, even then, can be blocked by the intended recipient.

Facebook plans an ad-hoc payments system under which users will be able to send internal messages to anyone (and soon everyone will be public) if the sender pays USD1 per message.

The idea of an electronic postage stamp for e-mail is nothing new: it's been mooted as an option for spam reduction for more than a decade but it is regarded as unworkable because there are too many participants in the hosting industry and they are in countries with too divergent laws and policies.

But Facebook is almost a country, able to set its own laws and policies, albeit with no accountability.

Like all countries, it needs to raise revenue but its business model of free access to all means that it is constantly looking for new revenue streams. It does not, publicly, consider the obvious model of charging a subscription fee even though, to do so, it would remove at least some of the vast number of fraudulent pages that the company itself admits to having.

The company has already made efforts to segregate business users from ordinary consumers, much to the ire of small businesses and - particularly - artists, authors and musicians who have seen their pages unilaterally turned into "community" pages.

The obvious idea - charging, say, USD2.50 per year which would, assuming 750 million active, non-fraudulent accounts - would generate more than USD3,000 million per annum.

Migrating from a free to paid-for service requires balls. It requires an admission that the business model of equating eyeballs to value doesn't work - that's why newspapers are erecting paywalls. A decision by the undisputed social media market leader that the model does not work would send shock-waves through the industry - and FB's shares, along with everyone else's, would fall.

So, FB plugs on with trying to increase ad revenue despite an especially poor contextual ad system, annoying people with Timeline and the ads it inserts into user's pages (hint: cost FB time and money by always rejecting the ads and marking them as spam) and now allowing spam to be sent through its systems so long as it reaps the rewards.

Facebook says that such messages can already be sent but that users have a messaging folder called "others" that collects messages from anyone other than approved contacts. This folder is apparently, frequently ignored by users.

So here's the iniquitous aspect to the new plan: the messages will still be sent as before but FB will guarantee that they are delivered not to the "other" folder but to the user's inbox. In short, FB will ensure that spam comes to the attention of its users.

To read Facebook's weasel words purporting to justify the change see http://newsroom.fb.com/News/55....

Scroll down that page to "New filters for managing your Inbox" and "Inbox delivery test"

It puts the onus on the recipient to block senders individually and report spam.

Note that FB tries to sell the concept on the basis that you might want to hear from people you don't know. It says " For example, if you want to send a message to someone you heard speak at an event but are not friends with." That's what contact with the event organiser is for, one might imagine.

Here's the thing (count the "if"s and "maybe"s in this paragraph): if sending the spam is found to breach the Can Spam Act, then that's a crime. The senders can be fined a substantial amount and a substantial amount ordered to be paid to victims. If it does breach that Act, then FB may be be a conspirator. Better still, if it has profited from that crime e.g by charging a fee, FB may be regarded as money laundering. And, because they are paid by the company from a pot that includes illegal proceeds, so might its directors.

Go on Facebook: make my day.