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Blame privacy woes for stalled U.S. Facebook growth?

A traffic study has found that growth may be tapering off, but it's inconclusive as to exactly why. Did the seemingly failed campaign against Facebook's privacy policies have an effect?

Statistically speaking, it had to happen at some point or another: New numbers from market research outlet Inside Network say that for the first time, Facebook's U.S. traffic growth may be plateauing.

After acquiring a jaw-dropping 7.8 million new monthly active users in the U.S. in May, it only picked up 320,800 in June, the research found, and among users age 18-25 and 35-44 it actually lost traffic.

It's perfectly logical that Facebook's growth would be slowing down in the country where the social network took hold in the first place, way back in 2004. There are only so many people in the U.S., and the vast majority of Facebook's traffic has come from overseas for years now, following a burst of international growth after the social network first launched editions in languages other than English. Now, it's truly global: Facebook is on the verge of hitting 500 million active users worldwide, and the same research firm found that its areas of strongest growth right now are in India and Indonesia.

But the reasons for the growth slowdown in the U.S. may be a little bit more complicated. Inside Network's Chris Morrison speculates that it could be "a blip," but may also be due to user backlash from the media frenzy surrounding controversial new privacy policies that gained buzz after Facebook's F8 developer conference this spring. The impact of those privacy policies on Facebook's traffic has been a controversy in itself: some criticized the tech press for its laser focus on an issue that was arguably not of mainstream concern, whereas one study pointed out that perceptions of the Facebook brand really were on the decline (and may have since bounced back).

Another reason that was not brought up by Inside Network could be the amount of Facebook traffic growth that the social network can attribute to popular third-party applications, particularly games, that are built on top of its developer platform. Games like FarmVille and Pet Society have proven to be addictive for millions over the past year or so, but the likelihood exists that many of these titles could turn out to be fads and that Facebook could see a slowdown in growth as people visit their virtual aquariums and pet stores less often. Some games, like the Zynga-manufactured FarmVille, have also been building a presence off Facebook.

There are lots of ways to speculate on this one, but the simple explanation remains viable: Facebook's been around in the U.S. for years and has been growing at lightning speed for much of that time. At some point, yes, it's going to have to slow down.