Facebook has launched a pilot scheme selling strangers access to users’ inboxes.
The social networking website has introduced a fee, believed to be $1, to guarantee that messages are routed to a recipient’s ‘inbox’ and not their ‘other’ folder, where they are likely to be ignored.
Facebook has billed it as giving users the chance to hear from people they do not know but who have an ‘important’ message for them. It argues the fee will actually cut down on the amount of unwanted messages.
But the trial, which began yesterday, has sparked fears that businesses will be happy to pay such a low charge and bombard people’s inboxes with advertising.
Facebook previously only allowed messages into an inbox if the recipient was ‘friends’ with the sender. It also uses algorithm calculations to let ‘relevant’ messages through, such as those sent from a ‘friend of a friend’.
All other messages are routed to the other folder, similar to a junk or spam email filter.
Facebook said the US pilot involves only a ‘small number’ of individuals and is limited to one message a week for each inbox.
A statement on its website said the ‘experiment’ is also limited to ‘personal messages between individuals’.
It continued: ‘Several commentators and researchers have noted that imposing a financial cost on the sender may be the most effective way to discourage unwanted messages and facilitate delivery of messages that are relevant and useful.’
‘If you want to send a message to someone you heard speak at an event but are not friends with, or if you want to message someone about a job opportunity, you can use this feature to reach their Inbox.
‘For the receiver, this test allows them to hear from people who have an important message to send them.’
Writing on allthingsd.com, technology journalist, Peter Kafka, highlighted that users cannot opt out of receiving the paid for messages.
He also said Facebook will look to ‘tinker’ with the $1 fee over time, but added: ‘The one-message-a-week cap, combined with the $1 fee, will prevent your inbox from filling up with spam.’
Facebook has also tweaked its message settings, with users able to select a ‘basic’ or ‘strict’ filter.
The latter means a person will receive ‘mostly’ messages from friends in their inbox. Anyone who previously selected the ‘friends’ setting will automatically have their messages set to ‘strict’.