RIP “Time Well Spent” by Mark Zuckerberg? In a move that appears to coincide with the slow growth of Facebook/Meta reporting, photo-sharing app Instagram appears to have quietly removed the ability for mobile users to set a daily time limit reminder of less than 30 minutes.
In fact, the UX design of the app leads people to choose a ‘limit’ of three hours (see screenshot below).
This daily time limit setting displays a notification to the user when app activity reaches their preferred limit, reminding them how much time they are spending in the app – and perhaps making it easier for them to opt out of the app. the application voluntarily.
Previously, the company supported a user-defined limit for Instagram that could be as low as 15 minutes – or even 10 minutes – a day, when it was making a big PR effort to suggest that more ‘conscious’ use of its services was possible as concern about social media addiction grew.
But it appears that the attention-loving adtech giant now wants Instagram users to spend more time looking at content feeds on the photo and video-sharing platform, where it can profit by targeting them with ads. Which could be a result of pressure from the business side to increase growth…
In its earnings earlier this month, Meta reported steady quarter-on-quarter usage for its eponymous app (Facebook) — and near-stable growth for its other apps, which are lumped together under an “app family” moniker. instead of breaking Instagram , WhatsApp etc use individually. (Daily active users in this ‘other apps’ category increased from 2.81 billion in the third quarter to 2.82 billion in the fourth quarter; while monthly active users increased from 3.58 billion in the third quarter to 23.59 billion in the fourth quarter; but Facebook’s own usage remained flat, a quarter more than the quarter, at 1.93 billion DAUs and 2.91 billion MAUs.)
The disappointing fourth-quarter results wiped out 20% of the company’s value when they hit — which may be one reason why Meta’s growth teams may be seeing what levers they can adjust to boost engagement from existing users.
Ploonge was alerted to the change in Instagram settings by an insider who shared screenshots of their account (see photos below) that show the company encouraging them to “set a new amount for their daily limit” – because, as says, “Available amount and daily limits are changing as part of an app update”. (Full milestones to Meta for writing a sentence that contains no meaningful explanation of why it’s making arbitrary changes to limit users’ control.)
This user had previously specified a daily limit of 10 minutes. However, they are now being told that this option is no longer available – and presumably any user who has not yet specified a daily limit or chosen a different (higher) limit would likely not realize that the 10-minute option had was passed over.
And while Instagram notification to user of this change to daily limits he does claim they can keep their current 10-minute limit, the app uses blatant dark patterns to annoy them to change it – including displaying a notification just above the 10-minute limit indicated on the “time on Instagram” settings page, which further instructs: “This value is no longer supported. Please edit” – all clearly designed to make them think they really need to move to a higher limit.
“My choice is gone and if I try to change it, my old 10 minute minimum triples to 30 minutes as the new minimum,” the insider told Ploonge.
The source, who preferred to remain anonymous, likened this silent change to “a tobacco company saying you can limit your packs a day as it takes smaller packs.”
“They don’t force change, but if you enter the edit screen as it says, you will have to force exit the app to exit without changing it,” they added.
We recently saw Facebook/Meta using a similarly manipulative persistent notification tactic when trying to send a policy update to WhatsApp users in the face of a big backlash from the T&Cs – which led to an (ongoing) EU consumer protection investigation. . But the company has a long and ignoble history of this sort of thing. So none of this is surprising. But ofc that doesn’t make it all right.
However, it is getting harder for companies like Meta to pull the wool. Oversight bodies are noticing grim patterns. Take, for example – again in the European Union – lawmakers in parliament who have recently overwhelmingly supported imposing explicit restrictions on these manipulative tactics in future rules set to be broadly applied to digital platforms.
So the scope for platforms to profit from cynically self-service patterns (or “available” configurations) seems to be shrinking.
Our tipster wasn’t sure exactly when the 10-minute option they previously selected was discontinued – but they did tell us the app was “complaining for a few weeks” to pressure them to “edit” the setting.
We also checked what we could see to confirm this change applied more broadly than to a single Instagram user – and found that 30 minutes seems to be the new ‘norm’ for app users.
A US-based Ploonge reporter found that the app also only offers 30 minutes as the lowest daily limit available.
As with the informant, the top choice presented to this user in the list of available times – and therefore the choice most likely to notice from a UX design point of view – was “3 hours” (aka 6x 30 minutes). ).
Another UK TCer who has verified your app may also select just 30 minutes as the lowest daily limit for notification on his Instagram.
Interestingly, the image looked different on the Facebook mobile app. There, the options offered to a Ploonge reporter based in France technically included “0 hours, 0 minutes” – although this did not work when selected. However, they were able to select a 5-minute limit (increasing in 5-minute increments later), so it seems the 30-minute minimum might not have been applied to the Facebook mobile app by Meta (yet).
We were also able to confirm that another UK-based Facebook mobile app user could select a minimum of 5 minutes in that app.
We asked Meta to confirm any changes made to Instagram’s daily limits setting – as well as asking a number of other questions related to it – but at the time of writing the company had not responded.
Facebook gained a lot of press back in 2018 when, with growing concern about the impact of social media platforms on teen mental health – announced was giving Instagram and Facebook users new “time management tools” – which included the ability to set a (soft) daily time in use.
Users will also be able to view a daily average of time spent on the mobile app, based on a week’s usage.
“We want the time people spend on Instagram and Facebook to be intentional, positive and inspiring,” wrote Ameet Ranadive, director of product management at Instagram and David Ginsberg, director of research at Facebook, as they presented the suite of resources for Instagram. Time management.
“Our hope is that these tools give people more control over the time they spend on our platforms and also foster conversations between parents and teens about the online habits that are right for them.”
The launch of the feature was linked to a broader push by the company – starting around 2017 – when it appeared to publicly engage with concerns about the negative impacts of social media. However, Facebook has done this by seeking to reframe the narrative, suggesting that any issues with usage are incremental and manageable (i.e. rather than existential for its attention-dependent businesses) – as long as the user has “tools” to do so. support what he called “significant”. social interactions”.
Hence the flotilla of tweaks and “controls” that Facebook/Meta went on to announce – offering self-service ‘fixes’ to address social media concerns in order to prevent users from completely breaking the habit.
Of course, these controls rarely – if ever – in reality put users in control.
Furthermore, the underlying content rating algorithms actively undermine user autonomy, optimizing ‘engagement’ that maximizes profit – as Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen detailed in hours of in-depth testimony to lawmakers last year.
Instagram’s daily time limit feature, for example, was much more of a mindfulness theater than meaningful control from the start – as users received a notification if/when they reached their desired daily time, rather than the app take firmer action like actually blocking them until the next day.
As Haugen testified, Facebook has demonstrated a systematic reluctance to give up small slices of profitability in the service of the greater good (aka the well-being of its users/society) – up to and including, it seems, allowing users to Instagram users select a soft 10 minute limit on their usage. Which would allow fewer ads to run versus a 30 minute minimum – which means less profit for Meta…
So the company’s claim of trying to deliver ‘time well spent’ on its platforms appears to have passed its sell-by date: another empty publicity stunt to buy time on Facebook while its growth teams create new UX hacks to keep their eyes busy.
(On the other hand, it’s interesting to consider the recent popularity of the viral word game, Wordle, whose creator suggested it should only be played three minutes a day when he spoke to the BBC last month – while the app itself limits the game to one puzzle per day.)
In any case, the debate over the regulation of powerful technology platforms has changed considerably since 2017 – with tech giants like Meta now facing the prospect of hard limits on how they can operate, through incoming regulation such as the EU’s Digital Markets Act. Or the UK’s Age Appropriate Design Code, which seeks to protect children’s well-being by enforcing strict privacy standards and standards and imposing other restrictions such as time limits on when platforms can message child users.
So if the secret to your ad platform’s growth is the design of obscure patterns and manipulative messages – not to mention anti-competitive surveillance – your investors certainly have cause for concern.