Data is a precious resource.
Besides incurring extra costs on outrageous phone bills, going over a carrier-imposed limit makes it harder to browse the Web, download apps, or stream music. If there’s just one guiding principle for application development, it should be “don’t waste data.”
Facebook must have skipped that memo. Sandvine claims in a blog post that the company’s app has led to a 60 percent increase in data usage on some networks since it was updated to play all videos in a user’s News Feed whenever they appear on the screen, even over cellular networks.
As Sandvine explains in its blog post,
Sharp rises in usage caused by video isn’t actually a new Phenomenon. When Instagram added video to their service in June of last year we observed a significant increase in bandwidth on networks across the globe.
The above data is taken from just two networks, and Facebook is famous for running multiple trials, and in one famous anecdote, they claim to have up to 1,000 different versions of the site for testing purposes at any one time. At this point it is unclear how fast or how slow the rollout of auto play is taking place around the world. Are they rolling it out to a small percentage of users at a time? Are they rolling it out at different rates to desktop users and mobile users? These are questions we have yet to investigate and answer.
It’s possible to turn the auto-play feature off in Facebook’s settings, but consumers tend to leave most settings alone and use an application the way its creators intended. This means that many people might be burning through their wireless data faster than before for essentially no reason — besides Facebook’s desire to make its users waste more time, and apparently data, on its app.
This isn’t the only time Facebook has decided that its users can spare a few megabytes here and there to boost engagement or appease advertisers. The company announced in August that it was introducing “bandwidth targeting,” which would change the advertisement shown to a user based on the speed of their wireless data connection in “high-growth countries” such as India.
Through this system, people with faster data connections might be shown a video while people with slower connections might just see a banner advertisement. The user doesn’t have any say in the matter; Facebook has decided that it and its advertisers have a right to use a consumer’s wireless data connection as it sees fit, and it doesn’t much care what its users think about that.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]