Facebook privacy scandal – has it really damaged the social media juggernaut?

by | 14/05/18

Listed amongst the world’s top ten most valuable companies, Facebook needs no additional help advertising its brand – especially when the extra publicity is for all the wrong reasons.

In recent times, Facebook has been attracting the wrong sort of attention, receiving widespread negative publicity for its apparent involvement in a privacy scandal relating to user data.

In case you’ve been living on a different planet over the last few months, Facebook and UK-based analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, had improperly shared the data of up to 87 million Facebook users, with speculation that much of the data could have been used to swing the 2016 US presidential election.

The media backlash and public outrage that followed has naturally attracted a lot of unwanted attention to Facebook, while highlighting a larger privacy issue around the misuse of personal data, especially within huge, billion-dollar organisations.

Following the scandal, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was called to testify before US congress, answering questions about the security of user data, how it was processed, and what information could be harvested and used externally.

Forced to argue that he was indeed the right man to lead Facebook moving forward, the company has since introduced a number of features and updates to privacy policies, including a ‘clear browsing history’ option, which allows users to delete sensitive information from their account.

With Facebook doing what it can to repair the reputational damage it has caused over the last few months, you would expect there to have been a clear dip in the amount of user activity on the site following such a high-profile controversy.

Interestingly, a recent poll from Reuters/Ipsos found that user behaviour had not been impacted since the scandal, with half of users still using the platform exactly as they were before and 25 percent saying they were using it even more.

These results were also reflected in Facebook’s first quarter financial results, with the number of monthly users in the US and Canada rising to 241 million on March 31 from 239 million on December 31 – growth that was roughly in line with recent years.

While the privacy scandal generated a substantial amount of bad publicity for the company, this ability to continue performing and keep achieving impressive results has allowed the platform to develop into an unstoppable social media juggernaut that many people and businesses rely on in their everyday lives.

The scandal created a negative couple of months that the organisation could have undoubtedly done without, but the bottom line figures and numbers suggest that the damage was only superficial, and the news did very little financial harm to the business.

With Facebook being forced to come forward and explain their existing data protection processes and even taking steps to tighten on-site security, it is fair to say the events have made the company sit up and take data protection more seriously than ever before.

However, for anyone thinking that this PR disaster would be enough to seriously injure such a successful social media giant, the evidence suggests that it’s going to take a bit more than bad press to deter its users from logging on to the platform.