Facebook and its executives faced a torrent of backlash on Saturday following news reports that the data firm Cambridge Analytica, which worked on the Trump campaign in 2016, improperly harvested private information from 50 million Facebook users. To make matters worse an internal dispute over how to handle the threat and the public outcry is resulting in the departure of a senior executive. Right now Facebook is a textbook example of how not to handle a crisis.
This wasn’t a breach in the technical sense. It is something even more troubling: an all-too-natural consequence of Facebook’s business model, which involves having people go to the site for social interaction, only to be quietly subjected to an enormous level of surveillance. The results of that surveillance are used to fuel a sophisticated and opaque system for narrowly targeting advertisements and other wares to Facebook’s users. This wasn’t informed consent. This was the exploitation of user data and user trust.
Facebook doesn’t just record every click and “like” on the site. It also collects browsing histories. It also purchases “external” data like financial information about users (though European nations have some regulations that block some of this). Facebook recently announced its intent to merge “offline” data — things you do in the physical world, such as making purchases in a brick-and-mortar store — with its vast online databases. Facebook says it takes this case seriously. But it is clear that lawmakers cannot rely on the company to police itself.
What will this mean for social media marketing? Social media marketing is as dead as Trump’s intellect, but now that Facebook has been exposed if people stop using Facebook it’s going to hurt them. I’m already reading and hearing about people leaving Facebook in droves.
To me it was bound to happen. Facebook has always a company that does it and worries about getting it right later. Let’s hope the price they price for this mistake is a heavy one.