The details around Cambridge Analytica secretly harvesting the personal data of more than 50 million users will eventually become a distant memory – but the real damage of the incident will remain as Facebook is missing the big picture around the trust breach.
The initial revelations of the Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scandal broke almost a year ago in an investigation by The Guardian, without provoking the level of outrage and concern seen right now. Why do we experience apathy until we feel the cumulative impact of serious scandals and breaches that push us to ask the right questions?
We have seen time and again that scandals and breaches rarely lead to changes in user or customer behaviour. For instance, we get angry with the banks when we find out they have committed yet another episode of unethical behaviour, but do we move our money elsewhere? We point the finger at Uber when scandals are revealed, but how many of us delete the app?
The outrage and disillusionment sparked by the Cambridge Analytica scandal is likely to drive many people to carefully check and alter their Facebook privacy settings. And that’s a good thing. It may be enough to push some users off the platform all together. But will they also delete other Facebook-owned apps such as Instagram and WhatsApp? I don’t think so, as has often been the case, convenience trumps trust.
The fascinating part about the unravelling Facebook story is trying to figure out what is the real story that is that causing such a brouhaha? We know fake news was spread on the platform and this played some role in the US election. But Twitter and YouTube also played a role.
Facebook also dealt with other data firestorms in the past. So why does it feel different this time? Users are fed up of the company’s defensiveness. Blame, denial and silence further erodes trust.
The divided response from executives, silence from Zuckerburg and Sandberg, flip flopping on their position, all leave us wondering – what else are they hiding?
The “what else might be lurking in the system?” will be the long term impact after the incident is itself forgotten and that is toxic when it comes to trust.
A big part of the rising tech-lash is more cautiousness about handing over personal information. However, there is also widespread apathy and ignorance when it comes to data collection and use. Why? Because it is complicated with a lot of grey areas.
It also is an age of trust on speed. We are increasingly outsourcing our trust to algorithms, platforms and apps with a single click, tap or swipe. We need to learn to take a ‘trust pause’ and ask ourselves: is this company, person or thing worthy of our trust?
Just like the banking crisis, which opened a wave of investigations and inquiries, users will want platforms to be more open and forthcoming about how their data is being used. In the past year, more than 50 countries have introduced forms of data regulation.
I think General Data Protection Regulation Policy (GDPR) is going to have enormous impact and it is something consumers clearly want. For instance, a recent survey by marketing company Pegasystems found that 82 per cent of respondents would elect to exercise their rights over data ownership under the GDPR, launching on May 25 this year across much of Europe and the UK. Hopefully, GDPR will encourage users to pause more often when sharing personal information.
However, regulation is not the only answer. As long as incentives remain the same, apps and platforms will continue to be designed around the commercial purpose of monetising their users. We need to be asking – can I trust the intentions of this company? And who really owns my data?