Facebook and Cambridge Analytica’s harvest and use of personal data has created questions, requests for clarity and discussions around the issue and time spent on Facebook. Throughout the marketing community, it has given us plenty to consider while we look at the year that is still ahead. As dust settles, it’s time to figure out where we stand.
The Long Story Short
On March 17th, an article ran that blew the doors off Facebook’s illusion of user privacy when a whistle-blower, who’d been a co-founder of Cambridge Analytica, admitted they’d engineered software to target soft voters in an effort to influence their voting in favour of now-President Donald Trump.
The data breach affected what we now know included 87 million people, according to new information from April 4th 2018. Of those 87 million, Cambridge Analytica created 30 million “psychographic” profiles, which were then used for targeted political use.
What happened then was exactly as long-time mentor Robert McNamee once forewarned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about potential data breaches: “You have 1.7 billion members and if they decide you are responsible, it won’t matter what the law says.”
It was days before Zuckerberg spoke publicly for damage control, but by then the company value nose-dived by as much as $60 billion, with Zuckerberg losing billions personally, too. McNamee was right. Both users and shareholders held him, and the Facebook board, responsible.
Ultimately, the dime dropped, and users have changed their tune on the formerly trusted brand, using the #deleteFacebook hashtag to voice their angst.
The Canary in the Facebook Data Mine
Understandably, this shook marketers hard. Elon Musk did a knee-jerk reaction and pulled his brand’s pages – for both Tesla and Space X – from Facebook almost immediately.
Musk’s reaction was quick – and could pose complication. Let’s consider the big picture.
Users now realize privacy isn’t about having nothing to hide, but rather about how their information can be used against them to manipulate them and sell to them. For that, it’s up to each and every user to determine what they want to share with Facebook, who in return make this information available to advertisers.
As updates unfold, we’ll be here to guide you through them.
Facebook soon announced changes to quell the uproar. Here is some of what has changed, or is promised to change:
- Privacy settings are simplifying, becoming more transparent for users to opt out where they want.
- Developers and third-party apps will no longer get the keys to the kingdom, just a person’s public profile, their name, and their email address.
- Improved layout with easily-found options for turning off third-party access.
But the most important change for marketers is that certified consent will be needed for their popular Custom Audiences tool. This isn’t a huge change, because technically this has been a requirement for quite a while now, but it has largely gone unenforced, leading to where we are today. The company vows that this lack of enforcement will end.
Without certified consent, marketers will be unable to use email lists from users who have not opted-into create targeted ads on Facebook. Within Custom Audiences, all lists with email addresses need to be made up of individuals who have given their explicit consent to join such a list.
Custom Audiences, though, is going nowhere and will remain a powerful marketing tool, for those who follow the rules.
Facebook has made moves to create change – like disabling a feature that distributed profile data connected to email addresses and phone numbers.
As a note – The Facebook data used by the Dentsu Network, ICUC’s parent company, is governed by a T&C signed by every individual which state how an individual’s data is used for advertising. This data is made available for any business that wants to advertise on Facebook in an aggregated and anonymized way. People have the ability to control what information they want to share with Facebook, who in return make this information available to advertisers.
In the end, the data you have now, you have. But, if you take your cards off your table like Tesla did, and someday you want back in the game, then tough luck, because you’ll be starting fresh. It’s smarter to stay in the game, learn the new rules, and play under them.
Luckily, we’re here to help you understand, and adhere to, these changes.
Some are panicking that this news will send users away in droves. There may have been initial outcry, but now, weeks out from the scandal breaking, we’re cautiously optimistic an exodus has been avoided. Unless users grow weary and start spending less time on Facebook, we see no concern in continued use of this channel, just the same as we have been for years.
Like you, many have too much invested in Facebook to walk away from it. They’re working abroad, and it keeps them in touch with their families. They’ve got kids of their own and don’t have time to email or call or text everyone they love. They’ve got businesses, their health limits their ability to get out, and on it goes.
Let’s get wildly hypothetical and say all of this blows up anew and Facebook loses a whopping 50% of its users – a doomsday scenario if ever there was one – that’d still leave them with more than a billion active users! They would still have one of every seven or eight people on the planet logging in to see what their friends are up to.
Are people using Facebook differently? Sure. Some have removed all third-party app permissions. Some are dialing it back a bit.
For now, nobody has built a better network to stay connected, and the users seem to be largely staying put. If a stronger social network comes along with more seemingly scrutable ethics, maybe things change. That day’s not yet in the offing, though. Not even close.
As the future comes, we foresee much scrutinizing and change made with respect to privacy and data collection – both by private enterprise initiative and through laws imposed by regulators. The best advice we can offer is to behave ethically.
While the harvesting, use and impact of the Facebook data by Cambridge Analytica is newsworthy, from a marketing and social media perspective, as an ICUC client, you can be confident we will always be compliant on behalf of your brand.