US Consumers Want More Transparency from Facebook

on April 11, 2018

Mark Zuckerberg went on record to say that thus far the #DeleteFacebook meme did not have much impact. We, at Creative Strategies, wanted to see if that was the case and more importantly we wanted to understand more about how the general public felt after the Cambridge Analytica incident. We ran a study across 1000 Americans who are representative of the US population in gender and age.

It would seem impossible for people to have missed the Cambridge Analytica incident, given the extensive press coverage. But, we wanted to make sure people outside the tech bubble were aware of it, so we asked: 39% said to be very aware, and another 37% said to be somewhat aware of what happened. Awareness among men was higher with 48% saying they were very aware compared to 29% among women.

There is no Trust without Transparency

Once we established awareness, we wanted to understand what would take to gain users’ trust back if their trust was indeed impacted. What we found was quite interesting. First, 28% of the people we interviewed never trusted Facebook to begin with. This number grows to 35% among men. When it comes to gaining trust back, it seems the answer rests on understanding and power. More precisely, gaining a better understanding of what data is shared (41%) and exercising the power to decide whether or not we are ok with sharing such data (40%). One of the answer options we gave was about making it easier to manage the amount of personal information share but this was not as much of an ask for the panel with only 33% selecting it. It seems to me that what users are asking for is more transparency rather than more tools to manage their settings, which makes a lot of sense.

How can I manage my information if I don’t even understand what and how it is used? This was a point that several senators made during Mark Zuckerberg’s hearing highlighting how long the Facebook terms of service document is. Zuckerberg’s response was that things are not as complicated as they seem, Facebook users know that what they share can be used by Facebook. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as that as the ramifications of how the data users share is used is quite complicated and even if you understand the Facebook business model, you would be hard pushed to know how far your data goes.

Better management of toxic content is also an action point that would help with trust: 39%. Not surprisingly, this is a hot button for women (49%) more so than it is for men (31%). I say not surprisingly not because I experience it first-hand but because over the years, there have been several studies that have shown a higher number of harassment cases for women online. The Rad Campaign Online Harassment Survey in 2014 found that women are more likely to use social media than men. Sixty-two percent of people who reported harassment experienced it on Facebook, 24% Twitter, 20% via email and 18% YouTube. The Halt Abuse Cumulative 2000-2011 analyzed 11 years of online harassment and found that women made up 72% of victims and men 47.5% of perpetrators.

Only 15% of our panelists said there is nothing Facebook can do to regain trust as they are just ready to move on to something else. Of course, if this sentiment were to be similar across other countries 15% of 2 billion users is a sizable chunk of the installed base that would disappear. What is interesting is that the number grows to 18% among people who said to be very aware of the Cambridge Analytica incident. Our study ran before the new details on the number of people impacted by the Cambridge Analytica data breach was released and before AggregateIQ and CubeYou breaches were revealed. It would be fair to assume that this initial negative sentiment might indeed grow.

Lower Engagement is the real Risk for Facebook

Privacy matters to our panelists. Thirty-six percent said they are very concerned about it and another 41% saying they are somewhat concerned.

Their behavior on Facebook has somewhat changed due to their privacy concerns. Seventeen percent deleted their Facebook app from their phone, 11% deleted from other devices, and 9% deleted their account altogether. These numbers might not worry Facebook too much, but there are less drastic steps users are taking that should be worrying as they directly impact Facebook’s business model.

Most panelists (39%) say to be more careful not just with what they post but also what they like and react to brands and friends posts. Thirty-five percent said to be using it less than they used to and another 31% changed their settings. Twenty-one percent said they are planning to use Facebook much less in the future. Others, in the free format comments, pointed out that they will take a more voyeuristic stance, going on Facebook to look at what people post but not engage. This should be the real concern for Facebook, as unengaged users will prove less valuable to brands who are paying for Facebook’s services.

Connecting People

After reading through the data on privacy concerns and plans to lower engagement one wonders why people are on Facebook in the first place. Here is where Zuckerberg’s explanation of what he created rings true to users: connecting people. Fifty-three percent of our panelists are on Facebook to keep in touch with friends and loved ones who don’t live in the area. Forty-eight percent said they are on Facebook to keep up with friends they lost touch with. Messenger and Groups are the other two drivers to the platform attracting 19% and 16% of the panelists. For those panelists who are very concerned about privacy the opportunity to keep in touch with people is even a stronger driver and seems to be enough to make using Facebook worthwhile.

Twenty percent of the panel said they are on Facebook because they are bored. This datapoint deserves a whole separate discussion in my view on the role that social media play as the digital gossip magazine or the real-life soap opera channel.

Facebook was built to connect people Zuckerberg kept repeating to senators in Washington and 40% of our panelists who have been on the platform for more than seven years wish Facebook could go back to be how it was. Alas, I doubt that is an option for Zuckerberg who did say though a paid version of Facebook might be an option. When we asked our panelists if they would be interested in paying for a Facebook version without advertising and with stricter guarantees of privacy protection 59% said no.

Implementing changes to the platform so that privacy could be better protected is not trivial when it impacts the core business model. Some of the discussion in Washington was pointing to the monopoly Facebook has which could be the biggest factor in determining how forgiving users will be. What is clear, however, is that the size Facebook has reached makes this a global issue, not just a US issue.