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Confidence in Facebook falls off a cliff

In the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, user confidence in Mark Zuckerberg’s vast 2-billion-user social network has completely collapsed.

We’re all used to seeing polls move up and down by a few points. That’s how elections are decided. But that’s not what’s happened here. This is potentially catastrophic.

Before the scandal, the proportion of users who believed Facebook was “committed to protecting the privacy of their information” was 79%. That’s remarkably high, and the number had actually been slowly rising since Facebook’s early days – the comparable figure back in 2011 was 67%.

Now? After the scandal first broke it dropped to 27% – a relative decline of 66%. After Zuck’s lengthy testimony to the US Congress, it stands at 28%. There are surely some sleepless nights out there in Facebook’s sprawling Silicon Valley HQ, the excruciatingly-named 1 Hacker Way.

According to a report on NBC, the big fear is that the US will now legislate for more privacy – perhaps by requiring users to opt in before having their data used by the company. This could wreck Facebook’s business model.

Just one poll? But here’s another, from Business Insider: 81% have “little or no confidence” that Facebook is “protecting your privacy and data”.

Long-term implications?

  • Since 77% of US Facebook users use the platform every single day, it’s doubtful that a significant number will be able to break the habit, even if they are unhappy. But as the NBC report notes, even a drop of 3-4% would have serious business impact.
  • When one day Facebook goes down and is replaced by some savvier, hipper, maybe more privacy-focused alternative (yes, it will; remember AOL? remember MySpace?), spring 2018 may be seen as the turning-point in golden boy Zuck’s fortunes.
  • Politicians don’t read much, but they do read polls. The pressure for privacy legislation in the US is growing, even as the European Union’s rules have tightened (as from May 25) – with massive fines for breaking them. And what about an option to pay every month and have Facebook leave your data alone?
  • The collapse in user confidence in Facebook hastens the day when we will all see it like we do the telecoms giants and the banks – as yet another huge corporate effort run by billionaires. The sheen on teenage Zuck’s dorm-room hack is fading.