I've been feeling a little queasy the past few days. And, as much as I'd like to blame last Saturday's Chinese food, it's really because of the news involving Facebook and their mishandling of user data as it relates to the 2014 and 2016 elections. According to the New York Times, Cambridge Analytica, a voter-profiling company, collected Facebook profile information from more than 50 million users without their permission. Facebook not only failed to disclose this to their users, but also bumbled along in playing cleanup, failing to get the offenders to delete the improperly obtained data, and only recently suspending their profiles.
As a digital marketer, I use Facebook daily to help my small business clients stay in touch with their customers and reach new prospects. But it's never been a secret that Facebook collects data on its users, using likes, comments, and browsing behavior to develop shockingly accurate profiles on each of us. While I don't think this knowledge is comforting to any of us, we more or less trust that Facebook, if not using it to do good things, at least doesn't use our data to do bad things.
In part, this is because of what Facebook's advertising platform can do for small businesses. With the information it collects about its users, Facebook offers targeted advertising that really can't be matched in the digital space. The ability to connect users with a specific problem, from aching feet to a backyard in need of a new patio, to the exact solution that my small business clients are offering is incredible.
On the other side of the coin, though, are the manipulators, the "dark marketers", who either work within the Facebook platform or outside of it, using Facebook's same data on our behaviors, beliefs, needs and problems to sow division, fear, and hatred to incite conflict, sway opinions and manipulate elections.
And that's where the news that Facebook so poorly handled user data – our data – bugged me. For a 14-year old company with 2.1 billion monthly active users and over $40 billion in revenue to have such lax control over the data and privacy of its users was a clear confirmation that, despite its age and size, Facebook still operates by its juvenile, startup "move fast and break things" mantra. It was a realization that they *still* don't understand the responsibility that they've taken on by becoming the world's largest social network.
So, they've screwed up. Is it time to delete Facebook?
Let's be real: with 1.1 billion active daily users, Facebook is huge, and it's not going anywhere anytime soon. But – money talks, and Facebook's currency is our browsing behavior, likes, and comments. If it takes losing a few hundred million active users for CEO Mark Zuckerberg and company to get the point, knuckle down and build a better product that respects its users, then I say, "So be it."
And if they don't get it, and users abandon the platform in search of greener (and safer) pastures, then I'll be packing my bags and my clients up, because there's no point in speaking to an empty room.