Concerns around technology addiction have been on the rise recently, but people have been talking about Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) addiction for much, much longer — basically from the service’s inception. Many companies have been announcing various tools designed to assist users in managing the time they spend on their devices in an effort to manage the addictive nature of modern mobile devices.
Meanwhile, Facebook has been trying to distinguish between time spent passively consuming content on Facebook and time “well spent,” an ambiguous term that has been floating around for years. Facebook broadly considers time spent engaging in “meaningful social interactions” with friends and family on its service to be well spent, as opposed to watching cat videos.
Facebook is now testing out a new tool that lets users see how much time they’re spending on the platform.
Monitoring your Facebook time
TechCrunch reports that there is a “Your Time on Facebook” feature embedded within the Android version of the app, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: The tool gives users a summary of how much time they have spent on Facebook over the past week. You can also set a time limit, at which point the app will remind you that you’ve hit your limit. TechCrunch had previously reported on a similar feature that was discovered within the Instagram app, which CEO Kevin Systrom subsequently confirmed.
We’re building tools that will help the IG community know more about the time they spend on Instagram – any time should be positive and intentional.
— Kevin S. (@kevin) May 16, 2018
When Apple introduced its Screen Time app earlier this month, there were subtle references to Facebook addiction, with that app being shown as the most used app in the example renderings. Screen Time also shows which apps are sending you the most notifications, and again Facebook was listed as an example, perhaps referring to Facebook’s devolving notification spam. The Mac maker then demonstrated App Limits using Facebook-owned Instagram.
It’s worth noting that given the highly subjective nature of time “well spent,” the activity reports can’t distinguish how much of your time is being “well spent” on the service. “Meaningful interactions” mean different things to different people, but CEO Mark Zuckerberg did say on the fourth-quarter earnings call that he expects usage of the service to decline as Facebook tries to discourage passive content consumption (emphasis added):
By focusing on meaningful interactions, I expect the time we all spend on Facebook will be more valuable. And I always believe that if we do the right thing and deliver deeper value, our community and our business will be stronger over the long term. In this case, it intuitively makes sense. If people interact more, that should lead to a stronger community. And we already know that time in News Feed interacting with people is more valuable than time passively consuming video or news.
When you care about something, you’re willing to see ads to experience it. But if you just come across a viral video, then you’re more likely to skip over it if you see an ad. So I want to be clear. The most important driver of our business has never been time spent by itself. It’s the quality of the conversations and connections, and that’s why I believe this focus on meaningful social interaction is the right one.
Though investors were initially rattled when Facebook said users spent 50 million fewer hours per day on the service following News Feed tweaks, Zuck has a point. In a way, fostering meaningful interactions can be good for the business to the extent that it facilitates more relevant ad targeting. Besides, Facebook would rather provide the time management tools itself instead of users relying entirely on those provided by mobile platform operators.
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Evan Niu, CFA owns shares of AAPL and Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends AAPL and Facebook. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on AAPL and short January 2020 $155 calls on AAPL. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.