Facebook Privacy Issues: What They Mean for Consumers and Brands

Mar 27, 2018 | 3  min
author Bonnie Horner

Facebook. It’s a necessary evil in 2018, especially in the world of marketing. With 2.96 billion monthly active users on Facebook, you could capture only 0.1 percent of that market and still get your name or brand in front of 2,130,000 consumers. And while some people have always been skeptical to join the ranks of worldwide users, that number has grown dramatically in recent years as Facebook privacy practices and other actions have come under scrutiny.

From reportedly suppressing conservative news to declaring war on fake news (and its role in the 2016 presidential election), Facebook has taken some beatings in the last few years. WIRED recently published a detailed 11,000-word article on the company’s struggles (talk about long-form content), but in this blog, we are focusing on the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal. During the presidential election, Facebook allowed this data firm access to information on more than 50 million users without their direct permission — data that was promised to have been destroyed but was later shown to be retained for years.  

The Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection announced Monday that they are now looking into Facebook’s data practices, claiming Facebook told users their data would be shared with “Friends Only,” but settings failed to prevent information from being shared with third-party applications those friends used. This was how Cambridge Analytica gained access to the data of 50 million Facebook users.

Other Facebook privacy issues

Do you have an Android smartphone? In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, news broke surrounding Facebook’s logging of users phone call and messaging histories. These users installed the messaging app on their Android phones and allowed the operating system to sync their contacts with Facebook. This was supposedly an opt-in feature that was only intended to improve the friend recommendation algorithm, but users are discovering “years of phone call metadata in their downloadable Facebook data file.

Freaked out? We are too. Along with billionaire Elon Musk who, just last week, deleted the Facebook pages for both of his companies, SpaceX and Tesla.

Protection as a consumer

For those of us that use Facebook as a consumer, there are options to ensure your data remains private:

  1. Disconnect your apps.
    When you use certain apps to play games, take quizzes, etc., you share your data with Facebook. Go to your Facebook settings, and check the status of these connected apps.
  2. Delete the Facebook app.
    If you take this moderate step, also consider deleting any corresponding apps like Messenger and Local events from your phone as they also have the ability to gain and store data.
  3. Delete your account.
    At some point, we have to realize that in a digital world, some information will be public, no matter what…and that Facebook will change their privacy rules, no matter what. So if you’re really freaked out, maybe it’s time to say goodbye for good.

Or maybe new regulations are in order? In May, GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) goes into effect in Europe. This new law will require companies “to get your permission first before they can use your data and create new limits on the ways that Facebook and Google and others operate,” says Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

Maybe this scandal is what the U.S. needs to adopt similar regulations?

Protection as a brand

If you’re like most successful brands, you’re paying Facebook a lot of money to boost your organic posts and promote your paid media.

It’s possible that this focus on Facebook privacy issues could prompt the social media giant to make changes to their advertising business model and newsfeed. Agencies like Pyxl are closely monitoring this situation to see if you should pull your advertising budget from Facebook. For now though, there is no real cause for alarm, unless Facebook implements stricter data defenses that limit advertisers’ ability to target consumers.

Additionally…while many people are fed up with Facebook, it’s not likely that a significant amount of those 2.13 billion users will leave the platform because of this scandal. In other words, the network of consumers available to advertisers isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

If you have additional questions about what this means for you, as a brand or consumer, don’t hesitate to reach out!

Updated: Apr 13, 2023

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