The Problem With Social Media Is the Ad-Based Model

Two Google alumni, Josh Gottesman and Akul Bali, have decided to do something to combat the negativity permeating the social media space. Their mission: to create a better and healthier social media experience and environment that is built for the users, not the advertisers. With this in mind, Privee emerged.

“[T]he idea came during the summer of 2020, as COVID had shut down most of the country ... the US election cycle was in full gear, and misinformation was really rampant across social media and the internet in general,” Gottesman says. “So we saw that while working at Google, and we started thinking, okay, one, why is there so much misinformation? Why is it spreading so rapidly? And why is this allowed to happen?” During this time, the documentary ‘The Social Dilemma,’ an in-depth look at the damaging effects of social media the way it is now, was reframing the public’s perception of social media, illuminating some of the darker corners of social media platforms and their effect on modern culture. For the founders of Privee, this served as validation of not only the potential success of their startup idea but the desperate need for a new way of socializing online. 

However, the challenge facing the founders was identifying the root of the issue permeating social media. Without this, Privee could very well end up contributing to the same problem the startup aims to solve. “[S]ince we were working at Google, we were pretty confident that it wasn't an issue of technology or resources, but there must have been some underlying incentive behind that,” Gottesman explains about developing the concept behind Privee. “So as we dove deeper into the problem, we realized that it's all about the ad-based business model. And that's also the key driver with other problems we see in social media today, such as privacy and rampant data collection.” 

Essentially, the ad-based business model that the most popular social media platforms are built on prioritize the advertisers’ interests rather than users’ interests. The result is highly targeted advertisements based on data collected from user activity to generate the highest engagement possible. Oftentimes through emotion-triggering, divisive content meant to increase the time spent on the app and keep the user coming back for more — whether it is healthy or not for the user in the long run. 

The Privee Difference

“[U]nfortunately, the majority of academic studies show that negative and controversial information is the most engaging,” Gottesman says. So, how does a social media platform keep users engaged without capitalizing on the unhealthy elements of human nature? Privee’s answer is a subscription-based model that forgoes the need of advertisers utilizing outrage, negativity, and divisiveness to expand their profit margins at the expense of the user’s wellbeing. 

Bali explains how this works within the context of Privee, “[R]ather than hiring Ph.D.’s and CS and spending millions or billions on ad-targeting technologies, we can reallocate all that to like, okay, what can we do better for the user? What features can we give them? What cool content creation capabilities can we give them in the future, whether they're like AR, VR, whatever it may be? And the focus all becomes giving the user a better experience.” 

The Privee platform focuses on creating a privacy-centered social experience, “it's about changing by offering people an alternative. [T]oday when you use social media, there's really only one option, right? You want to do photo stuff, it's Instagram. You want to do video stuff, it's TikTok. You want to talk smack in 280 characters, it's Twitter.” Bali explains, “[W]e want to provide people with an alternative [where] you can do all that, but still have a privacy-preserving kind of experience.”

Taking the Leap

As former Google employees, the founders have substantial experience to pull from in order to not only propel the company forward but also to inspire entrepreneurs looking to break the mold within their own industry. However, launching a social media startup that will compete with giants like Instagram and Twitter is a learning curve. “There's always going to be some skill gap you have, whether you're coming from a technical background or a business background. You're never going to be like, oh, I have every skill needed to do a startup.” Bali explains.

“If you keep waiting for that perfect moment, that's never going to really arrive. You just have to have an idea that you invented and go for it and take that leap. And you'll be surprised. Once you take that leap, you'll just start figuring things out as you go because it becomes very much sink-or-swim.” With the increased demand for a more positive social media experience from users, it seems Privee is at the forefront of the new wave of online communities. 

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