Social media companies have long been an essential part of the internet, providing a platform for people to connect with others who share similar interests, family, and friends, or even rekindle old flames. However, the cost of hosting these conversations is not entirely free, and companies have traditionally covered these expenses through advertisements. As a result, many of these companies have resorted to collecting data from their users without their consent to better promote the right product to the right customer, leading to concerns over privacy and antitrust violations.

In recent years, there have been numerous scandals involving tech giants such as Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, which have been accused of excessive data collection and tracking. These companies have even been summoned to Congress and the EU to clarify these issues, and some have faced hefty fines. For example, Facebook was fined $5 billion by the FTC for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. As a result, the effectiveness of social media for advertising products has diminished, and regulators have warned users about potential privacy concerns over the usage of these social media platforms.

To offset the cost of hosting servers and content moderation, most social media companies have started to offer subscription services. For example, Twitter's "Twitter Blue" programme offers extra features and a blue tick next to users' accounts for an $8 subscription fee. Recently, Meta Platforms announced that Facebook and Instagram will also charge a subscription fee for extra features such as extra protection against impersonation and direct access to their customer service support team. The price for both platforms varies accordingly due to Apple's high revenue percentage cut.

It's a positive development to see customers paying upfront for these services instead of having their data stolen and their privacy invaded. However, it remains to be seen whether this new business model will lead to a reduction in the practise of excessive data collection and tracking or whether it's simply a way to gain additional revenue on top of an already profitable business. According to a survey conducted by The Verge, many Twitter Blue subscribers felt that the added features were not worth the price. This suggests that users are not willing to pay for just any subscription service, and social media companies will have to offer genuinely valuable features to attract and retain subscribers.

As social media companies continue to evolve, it's important for users to be aware of the potential privacy concerns associated with their use. For instance, many social media companies track user activity on their platforms and even on other websites to serve targeted advertisements. Users can reduce the amount of data collected by turning off tracking and using ad blockers. However, it is still recommended for users to be cautious by being mindful of what they post online and keeping a strong password.

To further prioritise user privacy and transparency, social media companies could provide more information on how user data is collected and used. For instance, they could be required to provide more detailed explanations of their privacy policies and user data collection practises. Additionally, regulators could implement stricter privacy regulations and penalties for violations.

To conclude, while subscription-based services may offer a more privacy-friendly way to fund social media platforms, it remains to be seen whether users will be willing to pay for them. Social media companies must continue to prioritise user privacy and transparency to regain trust from their users and regulators alike. Ultimately, it is up to individuals to take steps to protect their own privacy online.