select all

When It Comes to News, Users Are Switching From Facebook to Other Facebook

Photo: Parker Brothers

According to a new study, people are using Facebook less and less for finding and discussing news. Instead, they’re turning to other services, such as Facebook.

Allow me to clarify. From the BBC:

It suggested young audiences were more likely to use WhatsApp, Instagram and Snapchat for news, partly because there was a growing desire to discuss news in relative privacy.

This is a pretty good illustration of monopoly power: Two of the three Facebook alternatives listed here, Instagram and WhatsApp, are owned by … Facebook. And they aren’t siloed off — data from Instagram and WhatsApp is shared with the mother ship.

The study referenced here concerns news readership specifically, so it’s possible that many discerning news seekers already know about the relationship between these three companies. Maybe they’re just looking for less public alternatives. But I doubt it.

There are plenty of people who are not aware that Instagram and WhatsApp are Facebook. One need only look back at the immediate aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, when it wasn’t too hard to find people declaring that they were done with Facebook … and moving to Instagram instead.

As much as Facebook has made a big deal recently about being more open and transparent with users, the company has made little effort to inform users of the fact that its subsidiaries are hooked directly into the Facebook ecosystem. In Apple and Google’s app stores, for instance, developers are required to supply the name of the app’s author, either a human name or a company. Instagram is listed as made by Instagram, Inc. WhatsApp comes from WhatsApp, Inc. The Oculus app is made by Oculus VR, LLC. The VPN service Onavo, which Facebook encourages users to install as a privacy tool — and the traffic of which Facebook analyzes as an early warning system about potential competitors — is made by Onavo, Inc.

Onavo is the only one of these apps that states that it is a part of Facebook and that it shares data with Facebook. It states this at the end of a lengthy product description that is abridged until users click to unfurl the whole thing. In essence, the connection is hidden below the fold in an era when users only read the headline.

Tech companies that operate monopolistically often declare that they don’t need to be broken up. And they’re spending a lot more money lobbying politicians and the public to make their case. If that’s what they believe, then maybe we should go in the opposite direction. If Facebook doesn’t want to be broken up, it should have to state plainly when users go to download its app or sign up for its service that it actually owns the apps that many people see as competitors.

When It Comes to News, Users Prefer Facebook Over Facebook