META, the company that owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, is about to U-turn on its commitment to keeping its apps entirely free.
According to The Verge, the beleaguered California tech titan is planning to charge users for some features in future.
An internal staff memo obtained by The Verge outlined a new group tasked with identifying and building "possible paid features".
The features would appear across Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, according to the document.
It is understood that they would take the form of new tools that do not currently appear on the company's apps.
If Meta's plans bear fruit, it would mean that – for the first time – users would have to pay to access the full versions of its apps.
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Meta's products have for years been free to use, with revenue generated through data-driven advertising.
However, the company's ad business has taken a massive hit after Apple made it possible for users to ask apps not to track their data.
Meta’s most recent earnings report revealed the company’s first-ever year-on-year decline in advertising revenue.
To stem its losses, the company is looking for new ways to generate cash amid fierce competition from the likes of TikTok.
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John Hegeman, Meta’s VP of monetisation overseeing the group, insisted that the company remains committed to its ad business.
He told The Verge that Meta was not planning on letting users pay to turn off ads, an option for users of platforms such as YouTube.
"I think we do see opportunities to build new types of products, features, and experiences that people would be willing to pay for and be excited to pay for," Hegeman said.
He declined to discuss paid features that are being considered.
Some services available on Meta's apps cost money already.
Facebook group administrators, for instance, can charge people to access exclusive content.
Instagram recently announced that some creators can charge users for access to exclusive photos and videos.
Meta will begin to take a cut from these transactions in 2024.
WhatsApp, on the other hand, charges some businesses for the ability to message their customers.
Meta is also planning to bolster its profits by betting big on the metaverse.
It believes that the virtual world is the next major evolution of how humans live with the internet.
In this future that evokes science fiction, the public will use augmented reality glasses and virtual reality headsets to find their way around, work or play.
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But its construction means tens of billions of dollars of investment in the Facebook Reality Labs branch, without any benefits for a long time.
"There's a lot of uncertainty about Meta's investments in the metaverse and if or when they will have a positive impact on the company's bottom line," analyst Debra Aho Williamson said earlier this year.
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