Facebook user trust plummets in wake of Cambridge Analytica scandal, research finds

Arvind Hickman
By Arvind Hickman | 19 April 2018

User trust in Facebook has plummeted in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, several studies have revealed.

Although Facebook’s global chief executive Mark Zuckerberg came out of a recent US congressional hearing into data privacy relatively unscathed, a larger problem is looming – how to win back the trust of Facebook’s 2.25 billion users.

The Ponemon Institute regularly monitors user attitudes towards Facebook and also measures the damage caused by data breaches across the world.

It surveyed 3,000 US users to ask if ‘Facebook is committed to protecting the privacy of personal information’.

The study, commissioned by the Financial Times, found user trust in Facebook to protect personal data had dropped from 79% in 2017 to 27% after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s recent testimony at a congressional hearing.

Nearly half (44%) strongly believe Facebook has an obligation to inform them if their personal information had been lost or stolen, with many angered that Facebook didn’t reveal the data breach when it first discovered it in 2015.

The study found that the majority of respondents would not lessen their use of Facebook despite their heightened concerns over privacy.

Australians appear to be dubious about Facebook in a study carried out prior to the Cambridge Analytica scandal breaking.

In a YouGov Galaxy survey commissioned by News Corp, 62% of respondents said they did not trust Facebook, 80% fear their ‘identity could be stolen’ and 84% said they should be able to opt out of having their private information stored.

The scandal also had an impact on how users' trust in Facebook compares to rival tech firms that also handle large quantities of user data.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken in late March found that 41% of Americans trust Facebook to obey laws that protect their personal information, compared with 66% who trust Amazon, 62% who trust Google and 60% who trust Microsoft. Even Yahoo had greater trust at 47%.

Facebook ANZ managing director William Easton apologised to a room full of marketers for “failing to meet user expectations”, a sentiment that was echoed by Zuckerberg at the US congressional hearing.

Although the data privacy breach has wiped away billions in Facebook’s stock value, the real damage will depend on how users react to the scandal and whether lower levels in trust translate to a material exodus of users or the time users spend on the platform.

Facebook's Privacy update

Facebook has released further privacy controls that it says complies with Europe’s GDPR requirements. This includes asking users to review whether to allow Facebook to receive ads based on data from partners, the use of facial recognition, profile information and tools to control privacy settings.

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