When people buy products they’re putting faith in the business selling them. Whether online or in the real world, they expect their needs to be met – after all, the customer is always right, right? Unlike the real world, however, access is seemingly free to many online services such as games, wifi and social networks, paid for with personal data rather than cash, although that doesn’t make customer expectations any lower.
That’s why there has been so much outrage over the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data breach which has come to light over the past week. There have been many reports on the story but to recap, Facebook’s platform granted access to third-party app developers and one of them, Aleksandr Kogan, secured access to data belonging to “tens of millions” through a personality quiz he designed, which was installed by 300,000 people in 2013 and enabled the firm to see not only the data of the people who installed it but also of their friends.
Two years later Facebook became aware the data obtained by Kogan was subsequently shared with Cambridge Analytica, the data analysis business, and demanded all data be erased. It’s since come to light that it may not have been deleted as reports have suggested it was harnessed for particularly nefarious deeds following the supposed computer cleanse.
Aside from the furore, lack of trust and confusion the breach has caused, the thing that seems to have people in uproar is that investigations suggest data allowed Facebook users to be manipulated during critical voting periods including the US election that saw Donald Trump named president and in the Brexit referendum that saw Britain vote to leave the EU.
Reports have been coming out daily, each worse than the last, and through all of this Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has kept quiet – until now. A creature of habit, he shared an update on the platform about what’s happened and how the company will move forward.
“We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you,” he said. “I’ve been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn’t happen again. The good news is that the most important actions to prevent this from happening again today we have already taken years ago. But we also made mistakes, there’s more to do, and we need to step up and do it.”
Having predicted a ticking time-bomb, Flavilla Fongang, founder of 3 Colours Rule, the creative agency, believed it was only a matter of time before something like this would happen. “With companies such as Facebook that hold critical information on its users, this was inevitable,” she told Elite Business.
“Companies with poor ethics saw an opportunity and chose to take advantage of it. Due to Facebook’s size and self-service data access they exposed themselves [by] providing data to companies or individuals with unscrupulous intention. The future of crime is cyber and this is on the rise.” She reasoned that Zuckerberg and his team took the right approach to the scandal and said all businesses are at risk, it’s just a case of whether that comes internally or externally. “The survival of a brand relies on how they behave in a crisis,” she said.
Likewise Claire Shiels, managing director of Claire Shiels Media, the PR company, saw this coming. Highlighting the core of marketing – understanding audiences through data to convince buy-in – Shiels condemned Cambridge Analytica’s approach: “This, it has been claimed, was carried out to actively influence the outcome of political campaigns through fake news which undoubtedly is several shades darker than trying to convince you to use a specific brand of washing powder.”
And she’s as impressed by Zuckerberg’s handling of the situation as Fongang, even though he took five days to prepare his remarks, having added: “From a PR perspective, Mark Zuckerberg’s response is on the money. Was Facebook in the wrong? Absolutely. Do we believe Zuckerberg when he says he’s sorry and that he’ll take steps to protect our data from now on? Absolutely.”
While Fongang and Shiels may be satisfied, there are plenty who aren’t. The comments section below Zuckerberg’s post were largely unforgiving and he was essentially called out for hiding behind his computer screen.
Offering a different PR perspective to Fongang and Shiels, Ian Hood, CEO at Babel PR, thinks Zuckerberg’s damage control isn’t good enough. “I’ve thought for a while now that we, the public, need to tread more carefully.” He’s right about that. Last year Purple, the wifi provider, added in terms and conditions that said service users were required to complete community service in exchange for connectivity as part of an experiment and thousands of people signed up, clearly failing to read the small-print.
“I want to believe Zuckerberg when he argues that this scandal wasn’t a data breach in the strictest sense of the term,” Hood continued. “But I do believe there has been an abdication of responsibility from the man who launched the social-media giant in his university dorm room. There should’ve been appropriate checks in place on third party apps to ensure the safety of personal data. I can’t believe this didn’t happen from the start?”
Going one step further, Evgeny Chereshnev, CEO at Biolink.Tech, the biometric-data specialist, thinks it’s game over and declared: “The reputational damage done by Facebook to its customers and partners is irreversible. The attempt to shift the spotlight by literally pointing to another entity to blame is a decent PR attempt but it’s a low blow and wrong from a moral and commercial perspective.
“It’s too little too late, because now everyone understands that Facebook is the problem. It’s not about a third party being able to acquire people’s data. It’s obvious that this is happening, and by many third parties that we’re not even aware of yet. But meddling with elections, referendums and messing with people’s minds is unacceptable. The real problem is the amount of power Facebook has on people and the amount of damage Facebook can have on free governments.”
Apparently well aware that an online statement wouldn’t cut it, with comments like Chereshnev’s and many others on the platform he built, Zuckerberg also sat down for a video interview with CNN to try and repair the damage, which has seen the business hit with lawsuits from shareholders following a $50bn decline in value since the scandal broke.
In a bid to clamp down on “bad actors” – and presumably turn around the company’s stocks – Zuckerberg has said that moving forward all developers will have access to personal data of Facebook users limited to the basics, while contracts and permissions will first need to be in place before any information exchange takes place.
He continued: “I started Facebook, and at the end of the day I’m responsible for what happens on our platform. I’m serious about doing what it takes to protect our community. While this specific issue involving Cambridge Analytica should no longer happen with new apps today, that doesn’t change what happened in the past.”
Given the reactions to the scandal and his comments, it’s safe to say the Zuck has got his job cut out for him when it comes to regaining the public’s trust.