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Every Facebook Privacy Debacle, From 2006 to Cambridge Analytica

With all the hubbub and change around Facebook in the last couple of months, it’s hard to pinpoint where everything started. Here’s a handy infographic of recent events and when Facebook initially started implementing changes on the Newsfeed.

Facebook is a lot like Nickelback. And it’s always been cool to hate on Nickelback.

It’s so “in” to hate on Nickelback even Mark Zuckerberg took a shot at the Canadian rock band in a video where he showcased Jarvis, his AI assistant, helping him out with everyday tasks around his house.

Despite Mark Zuckerberg making fun of Nickelback, their careers have some obvious similarities. Fanfare and excitement when they initially debuted, key changes in their inner circle (their band vs. his executive board), the continued monotony of their current body of work, and of course, a smattering of social scandals. From 2004 to today, Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook have been in the news more often than not. The Cambridge Analytica scandal is far from the first storm that Facebook has weathered. Even with the infographic above, there’s a lot of bumps that we left out. Let’s recap some other big scandals that Facebook has gone through in the past:

Since Facebook became dominant, they’ve maintained their position at the head of the pack, innovating through controversy. Despite the hurdles the company has encountered, Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg have pulled through.

To be clear, Facebook’s role in enabling the harvesting of user data is a serious issue. After the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke it was revealed that 87 million individual Facebook users’ data was inappropriately accessed by the British consulting firm without their consent. Public fervor and the dialogue about privacy continued to snowball with an unprecedented interview from Mark Zuckerberg on CNN ending with a public summons for him to testify before Congress and the Senate. That said, the public response to date has been reactionary and doesn’t appear to be trending toward any meaningful new legislation.

“Congress is good at doing two things: doing nothing, and overreacting. So far, we’ve done nothing on Facebook…We’re getting ready to overreact.” - Rep. Billy Long (R)

During his 10 hour, 2 day stint before the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees and then the House Energy and Commerce committees Zuckerberg answered 500 questions and promised to follow up with lawmakers about the 40 questions that he could not answer. As promised, Facebook’s main news blog published an article responding to a portion of the 40 unanswered questions during the hearings, but…what about everything else?

We can take a stab at predicting the future by looking at how Lawmakers, the Company and Users are behaving post Cambridge Analytica.

How Lawmakers Are Responding to Facebook’s Privacy Scandal

Weeks after the scandal we’re still talking about privacy, and with the upcoming midterm elections in November, politicians will probably incorporate stances on data privacy and consent into their platforms. In fact, the conversation around Facebook and data privacy is increasing scrutiny on similar ad platforms in Silicon Valley, like Google. Interest in online privacy is not just domestic, with GDPR rolling out in Europe during May 2018. Some U.S. lawmakers are turning to Europe as inspiration for rolling out similar protections for the United States.

Using Zuckerberg’s two-day testimony as the catalyst, lawmakers have introduced a slew of acts designed to protect privacy and the individual consumer: the MY DATA Act, The Browser Act, The Consent Act, The Honest Ads Act, the Social Media Privacy Protection and Consumer Rights Act and The Secure and Protect Americans’ Data Act. A few of these acts are backed and supported by both Democrats and Republicans, showing a rare instance of bipartisanship in an otherwise caustic political environment.

And yet, despite the discussion and media fanfare, no proposal has gained the ground needed to become law. Many politicians rely on the same audience targeting technology advertisers use on Facebook to effectively run their election campaigns. It is likely they will move carefully to avoid hamstringing their own operations. The true stance of Washington D.C. will become clearer during the lead up to the mid-term elections in November, when politicians are up for re-election and need appeal to their constituents. For now, Facebook continues to operate without additional regulation or oversight.

How Facebook is Responding to The Cambridge Analytica Privacy Scandal

After Zuckerberg’s testimony, he returned to Silicon Valley, and all eyes turned to Facebook’s stock. News and financial agencies assumed that Facebook usage and value would go down. However, when Facebook released their 2018 Q1 earnings, it turned out they ended Q1 with $11.97 billion dollars in total revenue, a 49% year over year increase that beat Wall Street estimates. During the public webcast, Facebook’s executive board focused on the themes of Zuckerberg’s January 2018 Facebook post and spoke about the company’s commitment to connecting people through meaningful interactions. Echoing Facebook’s philosophy, Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s Vice President of Global Marketing Solutions, said Facebook did not expect “major changes to [their] overall revenue and business model.”

Many marketers and brands are frustrated right now, even reshuffling internal roles and advertising budgets, but according to the New York Times, few have actually left Facebook. Facebook is the second largest seller of digital ads, with more than $40 billion in annual revenue and one of the most advanced ad targeting systems in the world. Although Facebook was initially tight-lipped about what was happening internally, Everson and her team have been erring on the side of over communication. The Global Marketing Solutions team sends frequent communication emails to marketing agencies and joined the dialogue between the Association of National Advertisers, Facebook’s council of top marketers, and other large marketing agencies.

Zuckerberg recently outlined Facebook’s plans to increase transparency and privacy while reducing misinformation and hate speech. In Zuckerberg’s words, Facebook is trying to “Make sure [Facebook & Facebook properties] are used for good.” Zuckerberg summarized efforts in the Facebook Q1 2018 Earnings call, explaining Facebook was restricting the tools and data app developers can access, ending the Partner Categories, investing heavily in AI Tools to remove fake accounts, and investing in more manpower (over 20,000+ new employees by the end of the year) to review content. Facebook now requires all political pages to be verified with a government ID and they’ve also increased the standards and requirements for purchasing ads. When an ad is shown a user will be able to see who is running the ad, who the ad is targeting, how much the advertiser is paying, and other messages that the advertiser is running. Facebook seems to have a positive outlook on their future domestically and abroad, even with the European rollout of GDPR.

How Users Are Responding to Facebook’s Privacy Scandal

Beyond the legislative and corporate responses to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, how are actual Facebook users responding? In recent weeks the #deleteFacebook movement has gained media attention and large brands like Tesla, Sonos and Playboy have deactivated their Facebook pages. It’s understandable that brands and advertisers are waiting to see how this situation plays out. A recent survey found that only 27% of Americans believe Facebook is committed to protecting the privacy of their personal information and 31% of Americans surveyed said they believe Facebook has a negative impact on society. On the other hand, that means the vast majority of Americans do still trust Facebook. Facebook User Usage metrics support that view.

A more honest answer to the question of user sentiment may lie in the data. The 2018 Q1 Earnings report showed Facebook’s Daily Active Users grew by 13% last quarter, increasing from 1.40 billion users in December 2017 to 1.45 Billion in March 2018. Despite Facebook making their privacy settings and tools more visible and easier to understand, the majority of Facebook users still haven’t made any changes to their privacy settings. Facebook statistics also highlight increased depth of usage and how businesses are using Facebook Pages and Facebook’s Messenger App to foster a more personal bond with their clients. Even with the imminent GDPR rollout, Facebook executives anticipate a plateau in European user growth and only a minor impact on ad revenue.

Facebook’s user base isn’t going anywhere, despite increased scrutiny about privacy. People are still using Facebook for its main purpose, connecting people, and finding new ways to use it, whether in their personal or professional lives. If users aren’t on Facebook, they’re likely spending more time on Facebook-owned properties like Instagram and Whatsapp. To be fair, the Cambridge Analytica scandal only broke on March 17th, so it could take until Q2 to see the full effects of the backlash.

How should content producers think about Facebook today?

Taking the time to understand where these three perspectives intersect is key to understanding and preparing for the future. Although Naytev is a Facebook media partner, we still rely primarily on the information the company shares publicly. Facebook is facing a series of tough challenges, but they have a solid track record of bouncing back from adversity. Even at a corporate level Facebook seems to show signs of moving forward, applying GDPR regulations across all users and, as of recently, reopening the application process for new third party apps.

We can’t divine the future, but it seems like a safe bet to say that Facebook is not going anywhere, and that the rich ecosystem around the social network will continue to thrive and expand.