Facebook to start charging for messaging

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Facebook's promise that it will always be free is looking fairly stretched today, as it has announced a pilot scheme which will force users to pay in order to send private messages to people who are not on their list of friends.

So why is it making this move, and what will it mean for you?%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%

The move

The website has announced it is testing a new system of charging for private messages to people outside a user's network of contacts. This was previously completely free - regardless of how many messages you sent.

It started a trial system in December where you could pay $1, and when you sent a message to someone outside your network it would also send them a text alert - which would increase the chances of the message being read.

If you chose not to pay the fee, the message would go into a separate inbox in the user's folder.

Now it is adding a charge for sending these people a message at all. The cost is likely to depend on how many followers they have. It is could start at $1, but go up to £10 for popular celebrities and public figures. There will also be a cap on the number of paid-for messages that anyone can receive.

It said: "We are testing a number of price points in the UK and other countries to establish the optimal fee that signals importance. Part of that test involves charging higher amounts for public figures, based on the number of followers they have."

10 consumer rights you should know
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Facebook to start charging for messaging

The law states that any goods you buy from a UK retailer should be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable amount of time.

This applies even if you buy items in a sale or with a discount voucher. You may have to insist on these rights being respected, though.

Useful phrases to use when you want to show you mean business include, "according to the Sale of Goods Act 1979" and, if it's a service, "according to the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982".

Some shops will allow you to exchange goods without a receipt, but they can refuse to should they wish.

If the goods are faulty, however, another proof of purchase such as a bank statement should work just as well.

If you attempt to return goods within four weeks of the purchase, your chances of getting a full refund are much higher as you can argue that you have not "accepted" them.

After this point, you can only really expect an exchange, repair or part-refund.

The updated Consumer Credit Act states that card companies are jointly and severally liable for credit card purchases of between £100 and £60,260 (whether or not you paid just a deposit or the whole amount on your card).

Anyone spending between these amounts on their credit card is therefore protected if the retailer or service provider goes bust, their online shopping never arrives or the items in question are faulty or not as described.

Start by writing to the agency asking it to either remove or change the entry that you think is wrong. It will investigate the matter and find out whether you have been the victim of ID theft or a bank's mistake.

Within 28 days from receipt of your letter the agency should tell you how the bank has responded. If the bank agrees to change the entry, they will authorise the agency to update their records. They should also send updates to any other credit reference agencies they use.

You can also contact your lender directly to query a mistake. If the lender agrees to the discrepancy, ask them to confirm this in writing on their letterhead and send a copy to the agency, asking them to update your file.

The FOS settles disputes between financial companies such as banks and consumers.

If a financial organisation rejects a complaint you make about its services, you can therefore escalate that complaint to the FOS - as long as you have given the company in question at least eight weeks to respond.

The FOS will then investigate the case, and could force the company to offer you compensation should it see fit.

Bailiffs are allowed to take some of your belongings to sell on to cover certain debts, including unpaid Council Tax and parking fines.

They can, for example, take so-called luxury items such as TVs or games consoles. However, they cannot take essentials such as fridges or clothes.

What's more, they can only generally enter your home to take your stuff if you leave a door or window open or invite them in.

You are therefore within your rights to refuse them access and to ask for related documents such as proof of their identity. If they try to force their way in, you can also call the police to stop them.

Private sector debt collectors do not have the same powers as bailiffs, whatever they tell you.

They cannot, for example, enter your home and take your possessions in lieu of payment.

In fact, they can only write, phone, or visit your home to talk to you about paying back the debt. As with bailiffs, you can also call the police if you feel physically threatened.

Thanks to the Distance Selling Regulations, you actually have more rights buying online or by phone than on the High Street.

You can, for example, send most goods back within a week, for a full refund (including outward delivery costs), even if there's no fault.

You will usually need to pay for the return delivery, though. The seller must then refund you within 30 days.

We enter into contracts all the time, whether it be to join a gym, switch energy supplier or take out a loan.

In most cases, once you've signed a contract, you are legally bound by it. In some situations, however, you have the right to cancel it within a certain timeframe.

Credit agreements, for example, can be cancelled within 14 days. And online retailers must tell you about your cancellation rights for any contract made up to stand up legally.


What it means

Facebook is emphasising the plus side of the move: it will prevent spam. It said in a statement: "The system of paying to message non-friends in their inbox is designed to prevent spam while acknowledging that sometimes you might want to hear from people outside your immediate social circle."

What this means for you will depend partly on how you filter your messages. If previously you accepted messages from everyone, then this will certainly cut down on the spam you receive.

However, if previously you blocked everyone apart from friends, this will allow additional people to pay to message you.

The plus side is that it will mean that these people could be messaged by old friends and new contacts - which could prove fruitful. Facebook said it would: "address situations where neither social nor algorithmic signals are sufficient. For example, 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."

The downside is that those who have specifically said they only want their friends to contact them will suddenly start getting messages from other people.

For those who regularly send messages to those outside their network, this will be a costly change. The move is likely to upset many people who have moved much of their communications into Facebook because it is a free and easy way to send messages. Now it will be just as easy - but could cost up to £10 a time.

What it will eventually cost is still to be seen. Facebook said: "This is still a test and these prices are not set in stone."

But what do you think? Is this fair? Does this renege on the promise that Facebook would always be free? Do you think this is just the first of a raft of new charges? Let us know in the comments.

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