Facebook and Cambridge Analytica: Privacy Concerns Run High

April 20, 2018

This article is included in these additional categories:

Customer-Centric | Data-driven | Digital | Featured | Privacy & Security | Social Media

Facebook daily visits seem to have been largely unaffected in the wake of the Cambridge Analytics scandal that broke in mid-March, but some users are reporting deleting their accounts and privacy concerns are high, according to several pieces of recently-released research.

Here’s a closer look at some of the highlights from these studies.

Awareness of Scandal is High

Fully two-thirds of US adults had heard either a lot (33%) or a little (35%) about data obtained from Facebook by Cambridge Analytics, per results from a survey from YouGov and The Economist fielded in late March, after the story broke but before CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony to Congress.

Another survey, from Creative Strategies, came to a similar result: 39% of respondents claimed to be very aware of the incident, with another 37% somewhat aware. (It’s unclear when this particular survey was fielded.)

At the time of the YouGov and The Economist research, just 22% of adults surveyed were satisfied with Facebook’s response to the Cambridge Analytica survey, against 58% who had were not very or not at all satisfied.

Likewise, 51% of adults surveyed from April 6-9 by YouGov and CBS News indicated that Facebook’s response had been unacceptable, more than twice the share (22%) who felt that it was acceptable.

CEO Zuckerberg testified in front of Congress on April 10th and 11th. It remains to be seen what impact his testimony had on perceptions of Facebook’s response to the scandal, but it’s worth noting that the research from YouGov and The Economist indicates that Americans are twice as likely to have a very unfavorable (21%) as very favorable (10%) opinion of the CEO.

Personal Data Security is the Top Concern with Facebook

Not too surprisingly, a Gallup survey fielded from April 2-8, in the wake of the Cambridge Analytics story, found strong concerns on the part of Facebook users with the privacy of their data.

Fully 8 in 10 said they were very (55%) or somewhat (25%) concerned with their personal information being sold to and used by other companies and organization. That emerged as their top concern with using Facebook, ahead of various others including viruses and unsolicited ads.

About three-quarters of respondents were likewise concerned with an invasion of privacy from using Facebook. That includes 43% very concerned, which is up from 30% in late 2011.

Meanwhile, the CBS News / YouGov poll fielded from April 6-9 found 63% of Facebook users feeling that their Facebook data is unsafe and given to those they don’t choose. Fully 86% expressed some level of concern about other companies getting Facebook data, and 8 in 10 were not surprised to learn that outside companies saw and used personal Facebook data.

Perhaps as a result, a majority (61%) also said they have little or no confidence in Facebook’s ability to protect their personal data.

Facebook’s Less Trusted Than Others

The results here aren’t necessarily surprising, in that various pieces of research have found Facebook to have a more negative public perception than other big tech companies.

Nonetheless, new studies lend more support to that general sentiment. A Reuters and Ipsos survey fielded soon after the Cambridge Analytica story broke revealed that just 41% of Americans trust Facebook to obey laws that protect their personal information. That compares with 66% trusting Amazon, 62% trusting Google and 60% trusting Microsoft.

Likewise, the research from YouGov and The Economist indicated that 39% of adults have an unfavorable opinion of Facebook, the largest proportion of 8 social media platforms measured.

And, as referenced above, adults in the US are much more likely to have an unfavorable opinion of Mark Zuckerberg as they are to feel that way about other tech leaders including Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Larry Page, per YouGov.

Finally, while Gallup’s survey found adults sharing a similar level of concern surrounding the sale of personal information by both Facebook and Google, fears over invasions of privacy were more pronounced for Facebook (74% concerned) than Google (65%).

Zuckerberg’s Right About One Thing

CEO Mark Zuckerberg may not be well liked, but he’s right about at least one thing. In his testimony to Congress Zuckerberg noted that people primarily use Facebook to connect with friends and family (as opposed to say, using it primarily for news).

While it doesn’t absolve Facebook of its privacy issues, research confirms that Zuckerberg is right in at least that regard. The survey conducted by YouGov and The Economist, for example, found that keeping in contact with friends (50%) and family (46%) were the foremost reasons for using Facebook. Far fewer (16%) best described their usage of Facebook as to keep up-to-date with the news.

Similarly, the survey conducted by Creative Strategies also demonstrated that users are on Facebook to stay connected. Some 53% reported being on Facebook to keep in touch with friends and loved ones who don’t live in the area, and 48% reported using Facebook to keep up with friends they had lost touch with. Notably, the report said that for “those panelists who are very concerned about privacy the opportunity to keep in touch with people is even a stronger driver and seems to be enough to make using Facebook worthwhile.

Facebook Use is Largely Unaffected

It appears that the above result from Creative Strategies holds true – about people sticking with the platform despite its privacy troubles.

According to an analysis from Verto Analytics, there was no immediate fall-off in Facebook’s daily user numbers in the week following the Cambridge Analytica story.

The Creative Strategies study suggests that rather than deleting their Facebook accounts, users may instead engage less. (As it stands, Facebook is the most heavily used social platform in the US, so there is some wiggle room…) Asked what changes respondents have made to the ways they use Facebook due to their concerns over privacy, the largest proportion (roughly 4 in 10) said they’d much more careful about what they post and what things they “like” or react to that brands or others post.

Beyond being more careful with those actions, more than one-third said they use the platform less even though they’ve not stopped using it, and about a third said they had changed their settings to limit the amount of data Facebook can gather about them.

These actions were taken in larger numbers by those who reported being very concerned about privacy.

Overall, 9% of respondents claimed to have deleted their account due to privacy concerns.

To gain trust back, survey respondents primarily want Facebook to make it easier for them to understand what information is shared and give them an option to decide if they are OK with what they’re sharing. Many also want the platform to do a better job managing the toxic content, while a significant portion indicated that there’s nothing Facebook can do as they never trusted them to begin with.

About the Data: Please visit the links provided above to obtain methodological data.

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