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Facebook - What Happens When The Trust Is Gone?

Amy Morgan and Bryan Roof

Unless you’ve been off the grid in recent days, you’ve heard that Facebook is in hot water again when it comes to how personal data has been handled.  The biggest issue isn’t just that the Cambridge Analytica debacle happened, but how it happened. 

According to reports, the data was gained legitimately in 2014 when Facebook app developers had more extensive data mining access.  In this case the data was provided to Aleksandr Kogan, a University of Cambridge psychology professor.  Where the violation came in was that the data was later provided to Cambridge Analytica which violated Facebook’s terms.  Some of the developers’ data mining capabilities have since been removed, and Facebook has said it is doing an audit of who had access before the restrictions were put in place (The Verge).  Details are still unfolding but this is what we know at this stage.

To some the data violation is shocking – how could Facebook allow this – while many have been saying it’s just been a matter of time before something like this happened.  As people spend an increasing amount of time online, more and more data is shared and out in the world, especially within social platforms like Facebook.  What this means is that Facebook, and companies like them, have an increasing stockpile of data at their fingertips.  Where there is data, those wanting to exploit it are sure to follow.

Current regulations around social platforms are minimal and often grey, so while some protections on data do exist, there are still work arounds and vulnerabilities that the Cambridge Analyticas of the world can exploit.  The role of policing those with data access, and the trust that user information would be responsibly protected has largely fallen on Facebook and the platforms themselves.  The problem – who watches the watchers?

We are experiencing a world where technology and the digital space aren’t changing every few years, but every few minutes.  This makes it difficult for current regulations to keep up – by the time policies are in place, something new is introduced that doesn’t fall within any existing regulations as they are.  With all of the data that exists in the world, we need protections to make sure personal information isn’t abused.

What does this mean? The days of relying heavily on trust with consumer data in social platforms are over.

This incident has served to highlight a glaring issue we face in this digital age.  This, and conversations that have come about as a result, will likely lead to more protection in who has access to the data and how it can be used.  But what that will actually look like is hard to say.  Even with added safeguards, consumers should still be vigilant and conscious of what information they are sharing online.

How data can be used could have an impact on marketers, brands and researchers who have come to rely on the wealth of data available to learn about populations, and how to best speak to them.

As marketers, we have a responsibility to not only the brands we represent, but to the consumers themselves too.  Our commitment is to do work that does no harm, and we want to partner with organizations and platforms that are dedicated to doing the same.

As for Facebook’s response to things, Mark Zuckerberg said that he would be willing to testify before Congress and has apologized.  

The final outcomes that emerge as a result of the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook incident are unknown as new information is still coming to light.  However, some changes are already in motion as Facebook is looking to restore trust amongst its users.

As of March 28, 2018 Facebook announced it would restrict some of the ad targeting capabilities that utilize third-party data.  This is supposedly the first in many steps Facebook is looking to take to protective action.  This action will impact some of the advertising efforts that many marketers have come to rely on in recent years, specifically with Partner Categories.

Facebook’s Partner Categories allows advertisers to layer in additional targeting from data gathered outside the site and anonymously matched to users.  This is something that will take place over the next six months.  While this practice is not unique to Facebook and is has not been found to be in violation of anything at this stage, it is something that is still very much a grey area.  The removal of this capability within Facebook is a step to try and get ahead of things before they become an issue.

We’ve already seen Facebook’s stock take a dip in the aftermath of the story breaking.  There could be additional financial volatility that Facebook is up against as more users potentially move away from the social network. There is likely to be a question around if marketers will also leave the platform as targeting capabilities become more restricted.

Zuckerberg has said that despite everything Facebook has no intention of moving away from an ad based model so it will be interesting to see how targeting restrictions unfold moving forward.

Details about future modifications are not yet available, but it is safe to say that we are likely to see more changes around Facebook data protections.




Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook made mistakes in handling the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The Verge https://www.theverge.com/2018/3/21/17147600/mark-zuckerberg-facebook-cambridge-analytica

Facebook limits ad targeting after Cambridge Analytica data leak - USA TODAY https://apple.news/AoLkXhy_eTq2zaH805Av8IA

Ex-Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie testifies about data use scandal - ABC News https://apple.news/Aik_tnCruTfCKKhPkTzBuVA

Mark Zuckerberg apologizes for Facebook’s data privacy scandal in full-page newspaper ads - The Verge https://apple.news/AsMeM4-k4RKKFUp7V37cSog

Mark Zuckerberg Asks For Forgiveness With A Full-Page Newspaper Ad - FORTUNE.  https://apple.news/ANVrJlEwkQKq79J3kSM2a6w

Facebook's Stock Took A Massive Dive This Week - BuzzFeed News https://apple.news/ANgnssC2aS265loRHZeioag

Silicon Valley Has Failed to Protect Our Data. Here’s How to Fix It - Bloomberg Businessweek.  https://apple.news/AAlsDkLuCTI2-uX2pLr0snA

Facebook's New Data Controversy: Implications for Marketers.  https://viewcontent2.emarketer.com/Content/facebook-s-new-data-controversy-implications-for-marketers?ecid=NL1001

THURSDAY WAKE-UP CALL: ZUCKERBERG APOLOGY TOUR (FINALLY), YOUTUBE CRACKS DOWN ON GUNS AND MORE. http://adage.com/article/news/wake-call-facebook-s-zuckerberg-apology-tour/312839/?utm_source=wake_up_call&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_campaign=adage&ttl=1522320238&utm_visit=2069627

After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, advertisers rethink Facebook data. Digiday+Story Preview, by Seb Joseph. Digiday, Spring 2016, The Rebellion by Lucia Moses

Facebook Responds: No More Partner Categories Targeting. March 28, 2018 By Jon Loomer. https://www.jonloomer.com/2018/03/28/facebook-no-more-partner-categories/?inf_contact_key=2bde60146a962ecf94c1abe18ee08d55add319aa87e000bb8d6a2f60fdb3c98d

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