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Time to face the music, Facebook?

Those that know me well have, at some unfortunate stage, endured my well-rehearsed rant about the perils of social media, and in particular my personal determination to never board the Facebook train.  I’ll spare readers and not go down that “rabbit hole” here.  Suffice to say I’ve been emphatically sceptical about it ever since it emerged as the prominent social platform.

There is no denying the numbers.  More than two billion users globally, five new profiles created every second, and three hundred million photos uploaded daily.  It’s had a phenomenal impact on society as a whole, and will influence culture for years to come.

But the recent news about Cambridge Analytica’s political operations, detailing the alleged exploitation of Facebook user profile data, has severely damaged the Facebook brand.  Facebook’s stock price plunged roughly 10% within 48hrs of the story breaking, presumably due to the threat of class action.  And reputation risk must be a major concern for Zuckerberg and co., with this round of unflattering publicity in the wake of reports deriding the platforms role in Russian-led election interference.

Truthfully, what surprises me the most is quite how long it’s taken for such widespread concern to surface.  The writing has been emblazoned on the wall for some time.  Privacy rights and disclosure have been the crux of my aforementioned rant – also hotly debated by observers and commentators everywhere.  And whilst it seems mass apathy is at its weakest right now, it’s hard to imagine Facebook will be willing to overhaul the business model.  I suspect that once the dust settles, they’ll tighten the reins in a review of terms, and get back to doing what they do best; collecting and monetising data at breakneck speed.

The potential for large volumes of implicit data to be used for political gain should be a big concern to us all.  The democratic process is sacred, and this recent scandal shows how the integrity of that system is threatened.  As organisations accumulate more and more customer insight either directly, or via partners like Facebook, ethics become more and more imperative.  Take heed.

Data is the lifeblood of much of the innovative work we do at Rush.  It's the fuel for creating more meaningful experiences.  I recently penned an article that spoke about the need to prioritise data as a form of business currency.  Data isn’t the enemy.  But it is essential that any organisation collecting, using, and sharing data is always doing so with a fully calibrated moral compass.  That includes you too Facebook!

For its part, Facebook modified its terms of service in May 2012 to enshrine its right to conduct research on its users, noting that “companies that want to improve their services use the information their customers provide, whether or not their privacy policy uses the word 'research' or not.”

More posts by Chris Skilton

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