Should I delete Facebook? It’s a question many have asked since the social media company’s abuse of personal data was revealed in the Cambridge Analytica scandal earlier this year.
And it’s a question many are asking yet again this week, after the New York Times revealed that Facebook granted over 150 companies more intrusive access to your data than previously admitted — including allowing Netflix and Spotify to read private messages.
Trust in the company is, unsurprisingly, low, but few have taken the plunge and deactivated. A study published in PLOS ONE Wednesday put a dollar value on the service Facebook provides to it U.S. users by holding auctions in which people were actually paid to remove their accounts.
The researchers found that the average Facebook user would demand more than $1000 to deactivate their account for a year. The auctions were held in 2015-16, before the scandals that enveloped Facebook this year.
“We know people must derive tremendous value from Facebook or they wouldn't spend millions of hours on the site every day,” Jay Corrigan, a professor of economics whose research focuses on experimental auctions, told The Outline. One participant told Corrigan her boss uses Facebook to distribute work schedules, and so without it, she wouldn't know when to show up for work.
The researchers held three auctions — with over 1000 participants in total — made up of students, residents from a midwestern town, and online participants.
Auction participants were actually paid, too, when they had proven to researchers that their account had been deactivated for the agreed period. "They faced real financial consequences, so had an incentive to seriously consider what compensation they would want,” said Sean Cash, a professor of economics at Tufts University.
Researchers compared the value that users put on the service to Facebook’s market value. When the company’s $400 billion market value is split between 2.27 billion users globally, the individual value works out to $175 — suggesting that U.S. users value, or at least used to value, the service much more than investors.
Facebook’s market value has fallen by a third — from $600 billion — since July when the company published poor second quarter earnings and after the news broke that Cambridge Analytica had collected data on tens of millions of Facebook users without their knowledge, using the data to influence the 2016 U.S. election.
In the aftermath, 1 in 10 users in the U.S. deleted Facebook entirely, and a quarter deleted the Facebook app from their phone. Corrigan believes that the damage will be short lived. “Despite all the bad press surrounding the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook has added more than 70 million users since that story broke. Social networks become more valuable as more people use them, and Facebook is easily the world's largest,” he told The Outline.