Facebook has made more than $270 off my profile — I'd like to pay it back

  • Facebook makes all its money from ads, but some users are willing to pay to avoid giving others access to their data.
  • The company generated revenue of $269.08 per user from 2010 through 2017 in the U.S. and Canada.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers the keynote address at Facebook's F8 Developer Conference on April 18, 2017 at McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California.
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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers the keynote address at Facebook's F8 Developer Conference on April 18, 2017 at McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California.

Hi Facebook, it's me (but you know that already).

You've been in the news a lot lately. For all the wrong reasons. It got so bad that your creator, Mark Zuckerberg, got dragged to the nation's capital this week to answer hours and hours of painful questioning from dozens of lawmakers.

Many of your users, including me, are pretty creeped out by what we've learned. But amid the madness, a novel idea has surfaced. What if you let people pay — say $7 a month — for an ad-free Facebook? This isn't the most popular proposal. In fact, most people interviewed by The Washington Post said they wouldn't pay.

I'm much more generous. I'll pay you the full $269.08, which is the amount of revenue per user that Facebook made from 2010 through 2017 in the U.S. and Canada. That will cover the pictures from my high school graduation and my first semester in college as well as the memories of my first year in New York. It doesn't include my first year on Facebook (2009), my use of Instagram and WhatsApp or anything I've done so far this year.

In return, I've got a tall ask. Even though I can download my profile's contents for free, I'd like assurance that the data hasn't been scraped and used anywhere else. If it has been, I'd like you to retrieve it. If you give me a safer, more secure experience and truly give me complete control of my data, I'll even pay you a little extra. Let's round it up to $300 even.


I know you say we can already control our data on Facebook. But honestly, I'm still not exactly sure what happens to it once it enters your machines. As Todd Haselton, my CNBC colleague, points out, even when my data is taken off Facebook, there's no way to be sure it hasn't already been snatched by some other party. And there's not much I can do about my messages, which still sit in the inboxes of recipients, nor the pictures of me that others have posted.

I get that you don't knowingly sell my data, and just use it primarily to help relevant advertisers target me. But you'll forgive me for imagining some of the many nefarious ways that bad actors could be using my data as I write this.

Nevertheless, I think the service you provide is valuable. And $300 is a small price to pay for the peace of mind an ad-free service would offer.

To your credit, you've done a really good job securing my messages compared to email and other social platforms. I'm not even sure exactly what a hacker could do with my Facebook data, nor do I want to find out.

I do have some sympathy for you. You're in a tough spot. Subscriptions make for a tough business and you've really nailed the ad model. But services like Netflix and Amazon Prime have shown me another way (though I'm not totally comfortable with the data they have on me either.)

I'm no innocent bystander here. I've known for a long time how Facebook works. Still, I think we can both agree that none of us knew in 2009 how powerful you'd become and that foreign adversaries would eventually be exploiting your loopholes to influence U.S. elections.

I realize that your ads are important. With local newspapers and independent radio stations on the decline, there aren't many ways for local businesses to reach me these days. But you can be pretty certain, based on the data, that the vast majority of your users will keep their Facebook as is and accept the ads. And as you told lawmakers this week, a free version of Facebook will always exist.

So I was hoping that we could come to a reasonable agreement: I give you a few hundred bucks and you retrieve my data. Deal?