Will Cambridge Analytica Data Abuse make brands 'distrust' FB?

Brand safety concerns are at an all-time high with digital platforms. Could this be the tipping point for brands to shun Facebook?

e4m by Venkata Susmita Biswas
Updated: Mar 21, 2018 8:59 AM

Cambridge Analytica’s abuse of Facebook data leaves no doubt that the social media platform’s inherent character of profiling users can be maliciously misused to target and influence users. The voter-profiling company has been accused of illegally amassing data on over 50 million Facebook users.

Platforms like Facebook and myriad other apps and services collect data on users based on the premise that users are willing to share data if they see value in it. Advertisers and the platform itself have profited from profiling users and targeting them with customised and personalised advertisements. A data breach like the one we have witnessed with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica could potentially lead to users losing trust in the platform and moving away.

This is not the first time Facebook has been entangled in a hot mess. From allowing the proliferation of fake news and discrepancies in metric to fake user profiles; Facebook has been in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Brand safety concerns are at an all-time high with digital platforms. This had prompted Unilever to threaten to withdraw advertising from platforms like Facebook and Google if they fail to tackle content that “creates division in society and promotes anger and hate.”

When trust in a platform as massive as Facebook drops, what could be the consequences? Will advertisers distance themselves from the platform that offers the world to them on a platter? Or has this gone too far already?

exchange4media asked these questions to some stakeholders of the digital advertising fraternity. Here’s what they said:

Anil K Nair, Managing Partner, L&K Saatchi & Saatchi

This was like a mine that was waiting to explode. Unless there are standardized policies in place, breaches like these can disrupt governments, brands and consumers. There is no doubt that this is a violation of basic tenets of privacy. The fundamental problem is with the revenue models of these platforms that are trying to milk the most out of these platforms. Additionally, there is very little transparency and we find that not everybody is being straight and honest with each other. One cannot go lower than the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook incident.

If I was an ethical brand, I would be worried.

Rohit Raj, Co-founder and Creative chief, The Glitch

The fact of the matter is that data has been used by brands across the board to alter the mindset and build awareness of their products for decades. Because this happened for the wrong reasons and by using illegal methods, it is being deemed as manipulative and fraudulent. If anything, this should be a case study in the usage of data in targeting consumers with the right content but doing so in a legal and ethical manner.

On the other hand, the interesting bit here is that the users have been exposed to what this data breach can do to them. When big decisions of nations, like elections and Brexit, get altered thanks to data manipulation, the fear of what a privacy breach and misuse of personal data can do, plays on the minds of the user making them distrust the platform and even exit the same. If that begins to happen, then brands will definitely follow suit because why would you advertise on a platform where people don't exist.

Whilst toxic content has become a large issue, there is also the growing problem of fake users and discrepancies in the metrics that Facebook provides to measure the content deployed. Also as Facebook keeps altering its algorithm which negatively impacts a brand and puts a spoke in the wheel of their marketing plans. More brands are almost reaching the logout point with them.

They still control one of the largest user bases in the world which is what attracts brands to them, but with data breach and privacy issues cropping up, and the younger audience tuning out of the platform, Facebook will really need to up its game to build user trust again. If users stop trusting Facebook, then that would be the tipping point for brands to exit. Because why would you advertise on a platform that nobody trusts?

Chandramohan Mehra, Chief Marketing Officer, Bajaj Allianz

The sheer size of FB (and growing) coupled with its targeting capabilities will ensure that majority of brands will stick to it. Issues faced by FB are manageable and I am sure they will figure it out. However, there are some key takeaways for brands and platforms. There is a greater responsibility on marketers and platforms to explicitly let consumers know how the data will be used to enhance experiences. Consumers in India don't mind sharing data if they see value in it. However, if the data is misused the platform and brand will get penalised by the consumer in some form or other, sooner or later.

Swati Rathi, Head Marketing, Godrej Appliances

I don’t think brands will shy away from using social media like Facebook. Given that the bulk of a brand’s target audience is on a platform like Facebook, brands cannot really distance themselves from the platform. There should be a process of checks and balances in place. I am sure Facebook will put some measures in place and as will agencies and brands. Everybody is on a learning curve and processes and systems are getting robust by the day. I don’t think shying away from the platform is the answer. Brands, Facebook and agencies all need to work together.

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