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Faculty Experts Discuss the Facebook Fallout

 

Facebook data breach
Panic, then forget, repeat
Trade data for what?

Joshua Dorsey, assistant professor of marketing, offered the nontraditional haiku in response to the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee calling on Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, to testify about the company’s recent data breach.

The New York Times and two of Britain’s newspapers recently reported that United Kingdom-based Cambridge Analytica mined data on more than 50 million Facebook users, violating the social media giant’s policies and then misused the information for political ads during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Cambridge Analytica continues to deny the data was used in the U.S. election.

The wave of consumer criticism swelled quickly, with many users tapping alternative digital platforms with the hashtag #DeleteFacebook to encourage others to abandon the social media superstar. But panicked as consumers seem, and rallied as lawmakers appear, a fickle and forgetful market is easily distracted, say Dorsey and other faculty members in CSUF’s College of Communications and Mihaylo College of Business and Economics.

“In just the past five years, prominent, successful companies such as Yahoo, eBay, Target, PlayStation and Equifax all have experienced data and trust breaches, which affected from 77 million to 3 billion consumers,” said Dorsey, who discusses trust and persuasion in his courses on sales and consumer psychology.

“For Facebook, the lesson to take from these companies is this: In a digital age, if a company can weather the initial storm through apologies, public relations and some degree of security — real or perceived — consumers will forgive … or just eventually forget,” he said.

Experts saw this coming. “But nobody did anything,” said Jason Shepard, chair and associate professor of communications. “Experts on campaign finance law have for many years tried to blow the whistle on foreign entities misusing social media to influence American elections.

“I think we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of how sophisticated data analytics have turned our personal information online into powerful, covert tools for political propaganda.”

Calling for regulation is a Catch-22, Shepard said.

“The challenge is that the First Amendment limits how the government can regulate our communications, and when we are voluntarily putting so much information out in the public realm, we can’t expect people not to use that information to try to influence us,” he said. “We love digital tools, but don’t always think about how they may invade our personal privacy until something terrible happens.

So, will this latest breach really affect the level of trust consumers place in Facebook?

“No,” said Dorsey. “Contemporary consumers have become at peace with trading privacy for discount cards at supermarkets, for online social capital — whether real or perceived — and for other similar incentives,” he said.

Neil Granitz, professor of marketing, agrees. “Consumers are more concerned with security breaches at retailers, where they have financial information stored; the consequences are immediate and personal,” he said.

“Young people already abandoned Facebook, for the more interactive and flashy social mediums, such as Instagram and Twitter years ago,” said Anthony Fellow, professor of communications whose research and book “Tweeting to Freedom” focuses on the use of social media for political uprising. Still, users “did not think outside groups would spy on them and collect data about their attitudes, beliefs, values and brand loyalties,” he said. “A break in that trust has dire consequences on corporate profits, and we see Zuckerberg’s empire crumbling a bit as profits plummet.”

But, it isn’t just data managed by Facebook that’s at risk, said Mahdi Ebrahimi, assistant professor of marketing.

“Data management crises like this makes all consumers feel vulnerable, even consumers whose data has not been compromised,” he said. “Just imagine how much companies like Facebook and Google know about your interests, friends and what you buy and where you go. The fallout will be beyond Facebook and Instagram and will spillover to other tech companies that have access to extensive consumer data.”

Facebook has yet to demonstrate that it is in control of the situation, because it hasn’t taken ownership of the problem, Granitz said. “Customers understand the breaches happen, but how the company reacts is of utmost importance.”

People want transparency and assurances, he said. “Facebook must enact immediate safeguards to ensure that data cannot be so easily harvested, in the future, and assure consumers of new policies.”

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