The presidential election of 2016 sparked an ongoing conversation about Facebook and its questionable approaches to data mining and advertising. First, there was the controversy about Russian trolls and their impact on the spread of fake news. Now, there are serious questions being asked about users’ data privacy.
The latter problem came to a head in December, when The New York Times released a bombshell report detailing how Facebook allowed companies like Microsoft, Netflix, Spotify, and more to view users’ personal data and the identities of their friends without the users’ consent. The newspaper conducted interviews with about 50 former Facebook employees and found an alarming number of irresponsible invasions of people’s privacy by Facebook and its corporate partners.
This brings us to a critical question: Are we nearing the point where users lose faith in Facebook and abandon the platform en masse? The company is certainly concerned about that possibility.
“We know we’ve got work to do to regain people’s trust,” Steve Satterfield, Facebook’s director of privacy and public policy, told the Times. “Protecting people’s information requires stronger teams, better technology, and clearer policies, and that’s where we’ve been focused for most of 2018.”
The thing is, while Facebook claims it’s trying to do better, it has a clear financial incentive not to, given that shady business practices are what’s contributed to the company’s explosive growth. When Facebook shares information with a partner, it’s a clear win-win. For example, Spotify is able to gain reams of information about what sorts of music will attract more subscribers, and Facebook generates massive ad revenues.
But in today’s world, building a sustainable brand is about more than making a quick buck. If Facebook wants to maintain its massive user base, the company will have to take a hard look at turning away the dishonest money and making a commitment to earning people’s trust. Right now, they’re pretty far away from showing that commitment.
“I don’t believe it is legitimate to enter into data-sharing partnerships where there is not prior informed consent from the user,” Facebook investor Roger McNamee told the Times. “No one should trust Facebook until they change their business model.”