When it comes to quitting Facebook, users will need $1,000 (nearly Rs 70,000) on average to deactivate their accounts for one year, say researchers who performed real-life auctions to get to this figure.
Using a series of auctions, in which people were actually paid to close their accounts for as little as one day or as long as one year, the researchers found that Facebook users would require an average of more than $1,000 to deactivate their account for one year.
"We know people must derive tremendous value from Facebook or they wouldn't spend millions of hours on the site every day. The challenge is how to put a dollar value on a service people don't pay for," said study's first author Jay Corrigan, Professor of Economics at Ohio-based Kenyon College.
Facebook, with more than 2.2 billion global users, is among the social media websites that provide access at no cost, so the auctions created by the research team posed the question in reverse as to what amount of money would you require to give up your Facebook account for some fixed period of time, ranging from one day to one year?
The work began as independent efforts by two teams -- Saleem Alhabash at Michigan State University and Sean B. Cash at Tufts University and Corrigan at Kenyon College with Matthew Rousu of Susquehanna University.
In total, the researchers ran three actual auctions. Winners were paid upon proof that their membership was deactivated for the set period of time.
At auction one with 122 students at a Midwestern college, the average bid for deactivating Facebook for one day was $4.17 and for one week $37. To calculate a one-year estimate, the researchers annualised this data which showed a range of $1,511 to $1,908.
At auction two with 133 students and 138 adults from a large Midwestern university/town, the average bid to deactivate Facebook for one year in the student group was $2,076 while the average bid in the community group was $1,139.
"Auction participants faced real financial consequences, so had an incentive to seriously consider what compensation they would want to close their accounts for a set period of time and to bid truthfully," said corresponding author Cash in the study published in the journal PLOS ONE.
"Students placed a higher value on Facebook than community members. A number of participants refused to bid at all, suggesting that deactivating Facebook for a year was not a welcome possibility," he added.
The study also contrasts the company's market capitalisation with the value placed on it by its users.
For example, based on a market valuation of approximately $400 billion, and about 2.2 billion users, the market value of Facebook would be approximately $180 per user, or less than one-fourth of the annual average value of Facebook access from any of the auction samples.
"While the measurable impact Facebook and other free online services have on the economy may be small, our results show that the benefits these services provide for their users are large," wrote the authors.