Facebook data breach

Facebook’s Data Breach: What it means for businesses

Facebooks data breach

What does Facebook’s data breach and the savaging of the company’s reputation over it mean for businesses that advertise and manage Pages in Facebook? While some Facebook users are joining the #deletefacebook campaign and others are taking more action to protect their privacy, it still makes sense for businesses and marketers to use the Facebook advertising platform for marketing and advertising.


But first some background.

Facebook’s data breach issue hit the fan in the US when it was revealed that the political consulting firm hired by the Trump Campaign, Cambridge Analytica, had obtained information about Facebook users without their permission. There’s now a proposed class action lawsuit for violation of privacy rights.

The company actually got the data back in 2014 when a psychology professor built an app in Facebook for a personality test – you know the kind of fun app where you see whacky posts from your friends (the latest one I saw was “what you would look like if you were a man”. Many of my friends posted the picture of themselves next to the gender-switch image).

The personality test app harvested data about the individuals that used it, including their location.  Such data harvesting was permitted by Facebook at the time for the purpose of academic research but is now banned. Facebook says no “sensitive information” or passwords were gathered and that the gathering of data for academic research is one of the terms and conditions that an individual agrees to when they sign up to use Facebook. Facebook’s data breach is a result of the professor passing the information on to Cambridge Analytica, who used it in advertising campaigns.

Facebook says it became aware of the data breach in 2015 and demanded Cambridge Analytica destroy the information. Facebook also deleted the app.  But it came to light that the data was not destroyed, prompting Facebook to admit “Several days ago, we received reports that, contrary to the certifications we were given, not all data was deleted.”

Some of the people who are part of the class action in the US have said they observed way more political messages in their news feed during the 2016 election campaign than they ever had previously.

The Australian Angle

Over the weekend, the Australian newspapers found a local angle on the story and claimed in a headline that Facebook was trying to influence Australian elections. But the headline was pure clickbait. We learned that Australian political parties were asked by Facebook if they wanted to use the Facebook advertising platform for election advertising, including using its custom audience features which increases targeting.

The newspaper articles suggested that this outrage was the beginning of the end of our democracy. However, newspapers and popular radio hosts have been trying their best to influence elections since before I can remember. Political parties advertise in these media outlets.  I see no difference, choosing to advertise political messages on Facebook or traditional media including traditional media’s online versions where advertising messages are highly targeted. The problem for the traditional media outlets is that the advertising spend recently hasn’t been heading their way quite as much as it used to.

How is Facebook’s data breach going to affect businesses using Facebook for marketing?

Anecdotally, while some people are jumping on the #deletefacebook campaign and taking action, many are not. It will be a while until we will see accurate information/numbers on the change in use of Facebook. Many people value what it offers and are not ready to “throw the baby out with the [bad] bathwater”. Remember also that Facebook owns Instagram and Whatsapp and users who ditch Facebook may not also ditch the other services.

Here’s four things your business can do following the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica data leak.

  1. Trust and transparency. People are increasingly wary about their data. It’s now important for businesses to be clear about what data they are collecting and how they are using it. Check your privacy statement and make sure it covers all the bases, including if you are doing retargeting or behavioural targeting advertising such as Facebook’s custom audience feature.
  2. Ensure third parties that you share data with, like your advertising/marketing agency are very clear on the permitted use of the data. Introducing an audit process, is not a bad idea.
  3. Scrutinise the way your business is using data and give it the “common sense” test. We’re consumers as well as marketers and business owners. Are we okay as a consumer with how our business is using data?
  4. Finally, seek to add value with your advertising. The “buy this now!” interruptive advertising never worked that well in digital channels anyway. And if you’re remarketing/retargeting then you know that the person receiving your ad has shown some kind of interest in you, your products or services. Recognise that, be relevant and offer value.

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