You’re apathetic about privacy, and Facebook is counting on it

Chris Davies - Apr 12, 2018, 2:05 pm CDT
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You’re apathetic about privacy, and Facebook is counting on it

Facebook may be under scrutiny from privacy regulators, and its CEO in the hot seat in front of Congress, but the social network doesn’t expect any of this outrage to affect its bottom line. The site has been repeatedly struck with negative headlines over the past month, beginning with revelations about how it provided third-party apps with user data and allegations that such data was used to manipulate the 2016 US presidential election.

However, the Cambridge Analytica scandal wasn’t to be the end of it. Facebook argued it had closed the loophole which allowed app-makers to extract far more data from users, particularly about their friends, than they had any reasonable need for. Even so, the US FTC decided to open an investigation.

Criticism about how Facebook handled smartphone device data followed, with concerns that its mobile apps had a disturbing eagerness to upload all of a user’s contacts – not to mention tapping into their messaging – to the cloud. With tighter European regulation around privacy fast approaching, Facebook has been on the messaging warpath about its new data protection tools. That’s despite not confirming exactly which will be made available to users outside of Europe.

Most recently, chief executive and founder Mark Zuckerberg has faced several days of questioning by the US Congress, though the value of the results has been questionable. Zuckerberg has told lawmakers that Facebook is still investigating what happened in the past with data breaches, and will continue to inform users of their rights and what tools are available to them. All the same, the level of questioning suggests that those in Congress lack in some cases even a basic understanding of how Facebook – or online services more broadly – work.

It seems, in fact, that the company is counting on users themselves having a similarly lackluster understanding, and at the end of the day not really caring about Facebook’s privacy blunders. According to Carolyn Everson, its vice president of global marketing solutions, not only are there no signs that users are abandoning the platform in any sort of #DeleteFacebook movement, it’s not expecting any of the privacy furore to hit the company in the wallet.

“We have not seen wild changes in behavior with people saying I’m not going to share any data with Facebook anymore,” Everson said at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council, the newspaper reports. “We are not anticipating major changes to our overall revenue and business model.”

While Facebook is making all the right noises about taking responsibility, it’s clear that the company isn’t taking the threat of users abandoning the site all that seriously. Part of that is just how tricky it is to actually do that, both on a practical basis and in terms of how many other services are tied into having Facebook credentials. The site plans to make those integrations more cautious in terms of the data they give third-party platforms access to.

Nonetheless when Facebook’s business, as Zuckerberg memorably told Sen. Hatch this week, is that “we run ads” against content in the News Feed, there’ll always be a struggle to balance demands for privacy with its own need to bring in revenue. That’s skewed all the more in Facebook’s favor, of course, when users themselves show little more than apathy about the protection of their own data.


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