Brands would be 'hypocritical' to leave Facebook over Cambridge Analytica's data breach

As Mozilla becomes first advertiser to declare it has pulled Facebook spend, industry chiefs have warned brands of hypocrisy if they boycotted the social media giant over the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Zuckerberg speaking at Mobile World Congress 2016
Zuckerberg speaking at Mobile World Congress 2016

It would be "bloody surprising" if brands boycotted Facebook over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, unless it starts losing users, Digitas chief strategy officer international, Fern Miller said.

Miller was responding to The Times that reported some members of ISBA were threatening to pull their advertising from the beleagured platform. 

When asked for comment, ISBA reiterated that it is asking Facebook for a full account regarding the possibility that Facebook data has been, or is being used improperly elsewhere. 

Since then, ISBA has now confirmed to Campaign that it will meet Facebook UK tomorrow (23 March) to discuss the issue. 

Phil Smith, director-general of ISBA, said: "When ISBA meet with Facebook tomorrow we want to understand the scope of the inquiry Mark Zuckerberg announced yesterday. We want reassurances for our members that it will get to the bottom of the issues and any implications for the public and for advertisers."

As this story went to press, one advertiser has publicly confirmed it will pull its advertising from Facebook: Mozilla, the maker of the Firefox web browser brand. Mozilla is not an ISBA member.

But Matt Dyke, chief strategy officer for AnalogFolk, agreed with Miller, adding that it would be pretty hypocritical for these brands to quit Facebook over this issue. 

"These brands have been salivating over the potential of Facebook data for seeding influential content among tightly connected networks of friends. In fact, they have pushed Facebook hard to make more of this data available to them, which hasn’t always been forthcoming," Dyke said. 

It would also not make strategic sense for brands to do so, Jess Geary, digital media director at Rapp UK noted, "People will get over this, people will continue to use Facebook and it will likely maintain its status as a valuable cog in a media channel mix. Cutting off their nose to spite their face isn’t helping solve an industry-wide, pervasive issue of which they have their part to play in fixing too."

On their part, a Facebook spokesman told Campaign that the businesses they have spoken to are "pleased with the steps we've outlined to better protect people's data". 

"They have confidence that we'll respond to these challenges and become a better partner and company as a result," he said. 

But the ongoing pressure placed on Facebook by the media and erosion of trust may make brands more nervous, Dyke added.  

Plus, the press is not likely to go easy on a platform that continuously refuses to define itself as a publisher while simultaneously undermining the business model that allows for investigative journalism, Miller commented. 

Analysts from Liberum, however, caution that while brands will likely stay, they are also likely to spend less on Facebook and the digital ecosystem in general. 

"We think this issue is more likely to snowball than recede and that advertisers are reaching a tipping point at which spending on not only Facebook and other online platforms, is re-evaluated," Liberum analysts Ian Whittaker and Annick Maas wrote. 

Liberum noted that several advertisers were already shifting money out of digital, notably P&G which has stated that they have taken several hundred millions of dollars out of digital without impacting sales.

While advertisers are unlikely to pull out en masse over this, there have already enough doubts and concerns over Facebook that this may drive some to think the risk of advertising on Facebook is not worth it, Liberum said. 

Is Zuckerberg fixing this?

In waiting three days to speak out about this issue, Facebook's chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, may have rendered his apology rather late. Particularly for the leader of a platform that has made near-instant responses from brands in crisis mandatory. 

That being said, the thoroughness of his apology has counted in his favour. 

"The speech he gave, in full, is pretty effective in terms of acknowledging the issues raised, and the need to be more publicly accountable. The quality of debate has been improved, thanks to great and fearless journalism at the Guardian and at Channel 4," Miller said. 

In fact, his statements may have even made up for the length of time it took him to speak, Geary said. "It’s clear that his lack of comment wasn’t him running from the problem, instead it was him taking time, and most importantly responsibility, to deliver a robust enough solution to begin the uphill battle of rebuilding trust again."

As for his plan to address and halt this problem, Miller described it as "pretty limited". 

"It’s a start, but it’s pretty limited. But the story has finally opened the long-needed discussion of how organisations like Facebook clarify the implicit contract they have with their users about privacy and it will force us all to consider what the value of our data is, in return. The problem is that this level of communication about what goes on under the hood is new for all of us – Facebook as well as their customers," she said. 

Trust in Facebook won't be rebuilt overnight, but his planned restrictions will change how we interact with Facebook in the future, and more importantly, how Facebook is allowed to interact with us," Geary noted.

What else should Facebook do?

Facebook should produce clear and actionable explanations to its users about where their data is stored and who gets to see it, Miller advised. "I’d really like to know who else might have been matching my profile and to what end. I don’t believe in the idea of the lone Cambridge academic any more than I think his psychological profiling of Facebook users got Trump elected."

Consumers should be aware of what data they share with digital platforms and determine their own level of comfort with that access because there will always be some exchange of that nature, Jenna Cummings, head of media, Vayner Media, agreed. 

Continual communication in an open and transparent forum, is the only way to bounce back from an inevitable, yet colossal mistake, Geary said. "We’ve seen scandals before, we’ve seen breaches before, but Facebook hass the audience, the power and the public’s attention to make a murky situation that affects the entire advertising industry into a historic success story and reshape the way we treat consumer data forever."

The "glimmer of hope" is that Facebook is well placed to solve this problem, Dyke said. "It is a company that has some of the best developers on the planet, programming some of the most sophisticated and powerful Artificial Narrow Intelligence. AI can be used to help solve this. It can be deployed to track down suspicious uses of data, remove hate speech and suspend fake news."