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Americans lose confidence in Facebook, but still use social media



Mark Zuckerberg tries to save Facebook.

Stephen Lam / Reuters

  • Facebook has lost consumer confidence following the Cambridge Analytica scandal revelations.
  • Users are not yet fleeing from Facebook, partly because they've already distrusted the social media platform and because of their usefulness.
  • Some Facebook users are taking steps to protect their privacy, but most are on the site as much as before.

According to the Cambridge Analytica revelations, a new poll finds that Americans trust Facebook less than ever.

But the same survey shows that online privacy is not a top priority for most people – which contributes to the evidence that the #deletefacebook campaign is unlikely to affect the social network's dominance.

The Reuters / Ipsos survey, conducted March 21-23, found that only 41% of US adults trust "that they abide by laws that protect their personal information." This is significantly less than the percentage that relies on Amazon (66%), Google (62%), Microsoft (60%), Apple (53%) or even Yahoo (48%).

It will not shock anyone that Facebook is widely distrusted. After all, 41% are pretty bad, considering how low the question is: not if people trust Facebook to keep their data safe, but trust it to just obey the law.

Whether Facebook broke any laws in the Cambridge Analytica affair is not yet clear, but the company faces several lawsuits, and the Federal Trade Commission confirmed on Monday that it is investigating Facebook's data practices.

The survey strongly suggests that Facebook has suffered some reputation damage from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, though it's hard to say exactly how much it is since this question was asked for the first time.

It's also worth noting that the survey was conducted after the data leak hit the headlines for several days before Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg launched a media flash to boost the company's reputation.

The company's stock has lost more than 13% since the beginning of the story, although there are signs that the sell-off has subsided. A # deletefacebook social media campaign seems to have peaked last week without remembering the intensity of last year's # deleteuber campaign.

What's really interesting about the Reuters / Ipsos poll is the secondary issues of how seriously Americans take their online privacy. The results provide some clues as to why Facebook seems to weather the storm.

More than half of all respondents – 51% – see Facebook as "continuous all day," as the poll showed, and 78% review it at least once a week. Only 14% said they do not use Facebook at all. That overshadows the involvement of any competitive platform, including Facebook's own Instagram. (Oddly enough, the survey polled people about Google+ but not YouTube.)

Of the 14% who do not use Facebook, most (40%) say they "do not find it so interesting or useful". Only 28% of these abstainers identified privacy concerns as the main reason why they stay away from the platform. Another question asked people who use Facebook why they do not use it more often. The best answer was again the utility (30%), followed by a lack of time (19%). Only 16% cited the privacy.

In other words, while privacy is a factor in people's decisions about using Facebook, it's relatively small. That makes sense: it's not that the social network has an excellent reputation for protecting the privacy of its users at all times in its history. The majority of Americans have clearly made peace long ago.

Ditto for targeted advertising, which according to survey 41% of Americans "worse" than normal advertising. When asked whether they want to see more or less targeted advertising in the future, said 63% less; 21% said more. And there they are still checking Facebook all day.

Finally, the survey asked what measures they had taken to protect their online privacy, such as: For example, you can change the Internet browser, tape the device's camera, or use an encrypted communication service such as Signal, WhatsApp, or Wickr. In any case, the percentage of those taking such steps was below 20%.

The big snack seems to be: People do not trust Facebook with their private information, but they do not care enough to change their behavior. Maybe that's because there's no clear alternative. One reason that #deleteuber was at stake was that it's so easy to switch to a rival like Lyft.

All of Cambridge Analytica's headlines have certainly changed some people's value calculations when it comes to using Facebook, but there's no sign that the attitude of Americans has changed.

That is, one result of the poll will likely affect Facebook more than the others. When asked how much the government should regulate how companies use their personal information, 46% said they would like to see more regulation, while only 17% said they would like to see less.

That may not be the kind of mass needed to make a substantial bill through this divided Congress, but it's still a remarkable achievement given America's general dislike of government regulations. In the long term, the impact of the scandal on Facebook's business could be less related to user feedback than to the reaction of legislators and regulators.


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