Should Facebook charge for privacy?

If Facebook charged fees for its service, would it do a better job of protecting user privacy? At least one Web CEO thinks so.

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Not surprisingly, Facebook's half-hearted attempts to kick its data-sharing addiction have not exactly wowed the privacy cognoscenti. Last week a consortium of groups -- including the ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse -- wrote an open letter to Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg [PDF] saying essentially what I (and many others) also said after FB's nominal response to the recent privacy uproar: Nice start, but... not enough by half, at least.

Facebook's response? Suck on it, you privacy pantywaists. We're done listening to you.

OK, that's not what they said literally, but that's the subtext of their letter, a copy of which you can find on Scribd.

Jeff Tinsley, CEO of MyLife.com, has another idea: If you really want Facebook to protect your privacy, you should pay them for the privilege. No, he's serious. And he's got a good point.

The idea is simple: If you're a paying customer, Facebook doesn't need to monetize your data so heavily via ad deals. That means it has less incentive to butter your data all over the InterWebs and more incentive to keep its paying customers (ie, you) happy.

“When you're solely reliant on ad revenue, that puts you in conflict with your users," he says. "To maximize revenue in a business with an advertising model you need to use the information you collect from your users to better target them. Advertisers are demanding the use of that information, which could put Facebook under pressure to collect and expose more and more of its users' information, especially if it goes public.”

Fact is, pay sites are more and more common. MyLife (formerly Reunion.com), has been charging users an average of $9 a month and providing a lot less than what Facebook offers its users each month for free. Tinsley's site has almost completely dropped ads as a revenue stream. And he's got nearly a million paying customers to show for it.

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