Facebook to increase your mobile data usage with automatic video playback
A new feature is rolling to Facebook mobile, a feature that has been designed to provide "an easier way to watch video". "How could a video possibly be made easier to watch?", you may well ask. "All it takes is a quick tap to start playback!" The new feature will play videos as soon as you see them in your news feed -- no need for a tap.
Videos start playing silently and if you're not interested in watching you can just keep scrolling by. But if a video does take your fancy, how do you think you view it with sound and in full screen mode? That's right… you tap on it. Just like you do at the moment. The feature is not yet available to everyone, but if you don’t see it in your account on your mobile handset, you can check out a video of what it looks like in action.
You may well be pleased to hear that the feature is not yet being made available to advertisers -- the initial rollout is limited to video posted by individuals, bands and musicians. Sadly this is probably not going to be the case forever. Facebook says "we'll continue to explore how to bring this to marketers in the future".
When advertisers' videos play automatically in your newsfeed, there are a couple of side effects, neither of them particularly appealing. Firstly, you are forced into watching at least a snippet of a video you may well not be interested in. Obviously we do not yet know just how video ads with auto playback will be implemented, but if they work anything like the way regular auto playback videos do, ads are about to get a whole lot more intrusive.
But the second side-effect is more worrying. For a video to play automatically, it has to be downloaded or streamed on the fly. If a video is one you are not interested in viewing, the download is carried out needlessly. And remember, the automatic playback option is on mobile devices. There you may well be paying for data usage -- so you are effectively going to be paying to view advertisements.
It is one thing to have an app or service that is supported by advertisements; users have the option of ignoring them or taking notice as they prefer. But to force people to pay for extra bandwidth usage is below the belt. It's good to hear (or not) that videos do play silently, but that's not really the point. It looks as though mobile Facebook users will need to keep a close eye on their data usage, or a quick browse of their newsfeeds could turn out to be expensive, particularly when roaming.