#49 – The Facebook Reputation Roadkill Mega Edition: data breach, privacy, regulation, politics, #deletefacebook, and our advice
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Hold on to your apps folks, because we have an entire show on the topic of Facebook’s recent “data breach.”
Each week, Erin Jones and I take a look at the most interesting reputation management stories, answer your questions, and share valuable ORM tactics. In this week’s episode:
- We canceled all other talking points for this week to focus on Facebook. We discuss the data breach, the backlash, the stock price, the politics, the privacy, and if Facebook can recover its reputation.
If you have a question you would like us to tackle, please leave a comment below or on my Facebook Page.
Transcript (forgive us for any typos):
Andy Beal: All right, guys. As you would probably expect, there’s really only one topic to talk about this week, so we’re going to dedicate the entire show to Facebook. For the one or two of you that have no clue what’s going on at Facebook, or perhaps you’ve heard about it and you’re still not quite sure, here’s just a brief summary of what’s happened with Facebook over the last week. Basically, it has been revealed that, via an app for a personality test, a company called Cambridge Analytica was able to obtain, at a later date, was able to obtain the user data of 50 million Facebook users, and allegedly used that data to help with some presidential campaign stuff on Facebook for Donald Trump.
This has turned into a huge issue for Facebook. Now first of all, it’s important to note that technically this is not a data breach, but a trust breach. The data was obtained originally all above board via APIs and systems that Facebook has in place for app creators to create these apps and get information. How it got in the hands of Cambridge Analytica is a little bit of a gray area, but that’s also a little bit of a red herring, because it doesn’t really matter how Cambridge Analytica got hold of the data, whether they created the app or if they got it at a later date. They still got data. They still obtained the data from someone that legitimately and legally obtained it from you, because we all like to complete these personality tests and give permissions to these apps. That’s where we are right now. Now there’s a huge backlash with a hashtag called #DeleteFacebook, isn’t there, Erin?
Erin Jones: There is. I have to say, I am siding with Facebook on this one today. I actually went in and looked at-
Andy Beal: You know this is not a Cage Match question. You don’t have to pick a side.
Erin Jones: I do.
Andy Beal: Okay, go on. Carry on.
Erin Jones: I do. Now first of all, I think Cambridge Analytica in itself could be a series of podcasts. The more I dig into this company, I’m fascinated and a little bit terrified by some of the methods that they use to extract information. One thing I had read was that they set up this quiz to get some information, and somehow along the process, Facebook makes them agree to delete all of the information that they gather by a certain date. They were supposed to do that, and they didn’t. I don’t know how much truth there is to that, but just out of curiosity, I went and looked to see how many apps I had given access to my own Facebook profile.
I’m pretty well-educated in this arena, and I’m pretty careful about what information I share, and there were at least 50 apps that had access to my profile. Some of them were things that I … FarmVille, I didn’t use FarmVille, but as an example, people who played that game a decade ago, it probably still has access to their profile. Where does the responsibility lie here? Is it with the end user, or is it with the app creator, or is it with Facebook? Should they shut these off after a certain amount of time?
Andy Beal: Well, they’re going to now. They’ve announced it. As part of the changes they’re going to make, if you’ve not accessed an app in three months, they’re going to shut down their permissions. But it’s an interesting point you bring up because there are so many people, and I’ve done it to some degree myself, that give permission to these apps, and we don’t give a second thought as to what permissions we’re giving. Now, it’s one thing to say, “Hey, I want to give you permission to allow me to log in to your service by using my Facebook login,” which is all pretty much protected. A lot of software, a lot of online services, do that.
But there’s a lot of things that I see where people are like, they want to find out which celebrity they look like or which … Probably in this case, you could also say that all those apps where it was like, “Okay, who should you vote for in the presidential election?” and next thing you know, you’re so eager to find out who you should vote for or which celebrity you look like, you don’t read that you’re giving them access to your date of birth, your email, your friends list, all these things.
Yeah, we’ve got to take some kind of responsibility here. If you’ve not already heard this expression, then pay attention. That is, if you’re not paying for a product, you are the product. We don’t pay for Facebook. Therefore, we are the product. Whether that is somebody using an app to get information about us, or somebody is spending money on advertising to get their products in front of us, or Facebook using our information, we are the product.
Erin Jones: Absolutely. I think that it’s really naïve to think that someone spent hours and money building an app that will tell us what color potato we are or which X-Men character we’re going to be for no reason at all other than to make us happy. Looking at what the end goal of some of these apps, especially like you said the who should I vote for apps, and I’ve been guilty. Curiosity gets the best of us. If they’ve got a great marketing team, they’re going to get a lot of feedback and interaction with these apps, but we need to be careful about what we’re sharing. A friend of ours, Carrie Hill, her daughter set up a Facebook page as kind of a test and used a different name than her real first name, and within months, was receiving email to the first name of her Facebook profile and not her real name.
Andy Beal: Wow.
Erin Jones: This information is getting out. It’s just a matter of how willing are we to share it, and who are we going to hold responsible when it gets out? I think some of that responsibility has to be put on our own shoulders.
Andy Beal: Right. Everything you’ve read about Facebook, all the issues they’ve had with privacy and all this kind of stuff over the years, you should assume that anything you put on Facebook is at some point going to make it into the public. I’m even very careful about what information I share on the direct messaging, because you never know how that might get breached. Some of the things you can do, when you do get asked to give permission, first of all you’ve definitely got to explicitly give it, but look for where it says that they have the ability to post to your wall.
You can make changes to say, hey, okay, if I have to give them the option to post to my wall, you can make the change to say that only you will ever see that. If they ever go ahead and post something without your permission, it won’t be an ad for Viagra that you didn’t give permission for, and then everybody on your friends list is seeing it. Only you would see it. There are some protections you can do. Fortunately, Facebook hopefully is going to finally come out with some updates that’s going to protect us as users, but that doesn’t necessarily protect us from Facebook itself. We still got to assume that Facebook is just a privacy leak.
Erin Jones: Right. I think Facebook’s in a tough spot here, because this is going to be at the expense of the happiness of some of their advertisers. That’s where their money comes from, and that’s where their stock grows. Then you’re circling back to users being unhappy, because their stock is dropping, or they don’t have as much money for new development. There has to be a happy medium somewhere. If we want this free platform, we have to agree to how we’re going to pay for it.
Andy Beal: Yeah. Facebook’s stock is … Their market cap is down 60 billion just since the scandal broke. That is not, I repeat, that is not because of the potential for users to stop using Facebook. It’s as important as email, really, these days. Now, if you’ve never used Facebook, you’re probably not even listening to this podcast, so you’re kind of a different segment. Can you imagine not using Facebook? I only know one person that successfully quit Facebook for more than a couple months, and even he’s thinking about coming back. It’s that important.
The stock price is not because of the potential to lose users. They’re not going to lose users. The stock price drop is because the impact this could have on their ability to earn revenue. As you’ve said, Erin, advertisers are not going to have their access to that information. App creators are not going to be as motivated anymore. Facebook’s going to lose that ability to earn that revenue. Then in addition to that, what potential government regulation is going to happen? Because there’s already calls for Zuckerberg to answer questions on Capitol Hill. The distraction from that, combined with the loss of earning, that’s what’s causing Facebook to lose some of its market cap.
Erin Jones: Right. My concern here is, where does Facebook’s responsibility lie, and where does the end user’s responsibility lie? Because we all always complain and talk about how we want this freedom to use the platform however we want. We don’t want to be censored. We want to be able to do what we want. But we also are trying to trust companies to be ethical in their dealings, and that’s not always going to happen. A lot of us, especially Americans, are kind of blind to the fact that things aren’t always done the same way with the same rules in other countries as they are here, or even with some of the companies here. How much do we want to give so that we can take what we want? We need to be responsible for the information that’s being fed our way and kind of own it from … There’s got to be some responsibility on the user’s end here for me.
Andy Beal: Yeah. Would this even be a big deal if it wasn’t connected with the presidential campaign, right? Because imagine if this was somebody had collected 50 million profile data in order to influence you to watch American Idol on ABC.
Erin Jones: And who says they haven’t?
Andy Beal: Well, exactly, right? They’re failing, but it’s like we-
Erin Jones: That’s another topic for another day.
Andy Beal: Yeah, exactly. We’re getting manipulated all the time, and we probably don’t care. We’re giving valuable information all the time. The number of people I see that actually have their full date of birth in their Facebook profile, you’re just giving hackers one step closer. Then I’ve seen where people will create apps where they’ll target you. Then in part of that, they’ll ask you what street did you grow up on, or which town did your parents meet? What was the name of your first pet? You see those quizzes that go out where people answer all these questions. It’s like, do you not realize this is most security questions that banks and financial institutions ask, and you’re just giving them away in a quiz because you think it’s cute?
I really don’t think … and I’m kind of really ranting here. I can hear my own voice. Let me see if I can bring it down an octave. I really don’t think that people either realize or they even care, and I think that this is getting whipped up by the media because, let’s face it, your credit card number wasn’t stolen. Your date of birth wasn’t stolen. Your Social Security number wasn’t stolen. You weren’t coerced into doing something nefarious. You just might have seen an ad or a story about something to do with the presidential election. I mean, this is not a huge deal, except that the media knows, if they can jump on this bandwagon, and then maybe … Oh, let’s start. It’s like heaven forbid if they find out that there’s a Russian executive at Cambridge Analytica. They’ll really just have a 24-hour news cycle then.
Erin Jones: For sure. I doubt this is the first presidential campaign that something like this has happened in. We’ve seen dueling magazine covers based on the demographic of the area that it’s being sold in, or different headlines for newspapers based on which part of the country they’re going to be placed in stores in. This is not anything new. I think, just like you said, people are up in a tizzy because the media is making a huge deal about this, and they were able to insert the word Russian into it. I think it’s something that people should be aware of and be careful of, but not just from an election standpoint. Like you said, they play on nostalgia to get you to say what your first car was or what street you grew up on, because people like reminiscing. It feels fun. I’ve probably gotten caught up in some of that myself, and I absolutely know better, but we can do better.
Andy Beal: Yeah. Let’s switch gears a little bit, because it took days before Mark Zuckerberg actually came out and apologized and explained what was going to happen. From a reputation perspective, that was way too long. I agree. You do need to sit down and evaluate what the situation was, the circumstances, the facts. You don’t want to just jump to the wrong conclusion, but that should take hours, maybe 24 hours. It shouldn’t take days. Certainly the facts were clear at the beginning that Facebook, whether it was a breach or just poorly crafted policy for app users, let down its core user base. For that, it should have apologized earlier, and then said, “Now we’re going to roll up our sleeves and get to the bottom of this.” Do you agree, Erin, that maybe the apology should have come sooner?
Erin Jones: I absolutely agree. I think when you’re dealing with multiples of billions of dollars, if you’re smart, you’ve got responses crafted to a lot of these potential situations at the ready. I’m really curious to see what they were sitting back. Were they waiting for it, hoping it would blow over, or were they really scrambling to come up with a response here?
Andy Beal: I think they were looking to see whether they could just shirk all responsibility. They wanted to see, is there any way we can put this fully on the shoulders of a third party? If you read through Zuckerberg’s Facebook response, which I’ve read it twice and still didn’t see an actual apology in it, I know he’s apologized in other channels, but I read his Facebook response, didn’t see just a sincere apology. You see the facts laid out, but you definitely see a lot of, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, mitigating circumstances where they’re trying to explain away that it wasn’t fully Facebook.
They were probably spending these days trying to figure out how they could pass off some of the blame, if not all of the blame, and how they can craft this so that they can come out unscathed, as opposed to just, “Hey, we’re sorry. We screwed up. This is what we’re going to do.” I think that’s where they spent so much time was it just feels to me that they were trying to be very careful with their wording here to avoid this stock crash, to avoid political oversight. I think it kind of backfired on them, because I’ve always said, in the absence of an official word from the company, the void is going to be filled by everybody else with speculation and discussion.
Erin Jones: I couldn’t agree more, and especially when that discussion is going to happen on the very platform that you created. Why wouldn’t you take a minute and make your best apology live on the platform that you created where the conversation is happening? Facebook and Twitter and some of these social media sites have changed the way that news has been disseminated in this world, and this would have been a great time for him to say, “Before I go to the news outlets, I’m going to let you hear it here first.”
Andy Beal: Yeah, absolutely. But again, you got to think, where is the priority? Who is the customer for Facebook? It’s advertisers. It’s investors. It’s the media. It’s politicians. We’re the last to know, because we’re the last rung on the ladder. We’re at the bottom of the food chain, right? We’re not the important part. He knows he’s got billions of people using his platform, and if he loses … Heck, if they lose a million people that actually follow through with the Delete Facebook campaign, then that’s a drop in the bucket. That’s why we were the last to know. Going forward, Facebook really needs to demonstrate that it can be trusted, because if the users don’t leave, it could face more government regulation, which is probably more scary to it than the users leaving.
Erin Jones: Absolutely. Can I just shake my old lady cane on my porch for a second, and say that deleting Facebook is not making you a warrior for social justice? Facebook is, for the most part, pretty self-serving. Most users, it’s a … I don’t want to say a narcissism thing, but we’re communicating with our friends and family. We’re sharing information. We’re posting photos. You deleting your Facebook page is not paving the way for social change. First of all, I think that that hashtag is a little bit ridiculous, and I feel like it makes me sound like a cranky old lady, but I rolled my eyes when I saw it.
Second of all, I feel like this would be a really good avenue for some great opportunity to figure out what people want to get out of Facebook and sit back. They jumped in. It was really fun and kitschy in the beginning, and it’s grown into this massive machine. Now’s a good time to take a step back and figure out if you’re sharing what you should be sharing, maybe tighten down your account a little bit, and really look at what you’re putting out there.
Andy Beal: Yeah, no, I’m an old lady with a cane too, but I think the cool kids would say it’s time to get woke, right? It’s time to realize how your data is being used, how you’re being used. Continue to use Facebook, but just be a little bit more careful. At least be aware that you don’t have this level of privacy that you think you have. Even if somebody were just to take a screenshot of something … In fact, I had someone contact me the other day where the person had a reputation issue that their young daughter was suffering from an issue, not because of anything they posted publicly, because somebody had taken a screenshot of something they had posted privately and then they put it publicly.
It’s time to kind of realize that, look, Facebook is a great tool, but there is no privacy. You are not the customer. You are a very small cog in a big wheel. Understand that, and continue to use Facebook knowing that that is the case. It doesn’t mean stop posting or whatever, but just be careful. Okay, maybe I don’t want to post that picture of my children if I’m worried about their identity. Maybe I don’t want to discuss my vacation plans or all that kind of stuff. Just think twice as to where your limits are. Be your own privacy regulator, if you like, as to how far do I want to go? Regardless of what Facebook tells me they’re going to protect me from, how far am I willing to go? Let that be the bar that is set, not some kind of imaginary bar that you think Facebook has set.
Erin Jones: I couldn’t agree more. I don’t think that it’s fair or reasonable to expect someone else to protect our privacy for us. We’ve said this before. You even said it earlier in the podcast today, but it’s worth reiterating. Anything you share online in any platform should be considered public, whether it’s an email, a Facebook post, a private message. Always assume that it can be shared. Text messages can be screenshotted. Private emails, even if at the bottom it says, “This is confidential, and if it wasn’t meant for you, delete it right now,” that’s not going to get you very far. Act accordingly.
Andy Beal: Yeah. Well, we told you we had a packed show today and that we would fill up the 20 minutes talking about Facebook, and hey, we delivered on that. Next time, we’ll get back hopefully to discussing some different topics. We already have a Reputation Cage Match topic in the hopper ready to talk about for next time. We hope you’ve enjoyed this show. If you have any questions or you’d like to make a comment, feel free to go to, ironically, our Facebook page, which is /andybealORM. Don’t private message us, because you never know who might see it. Erin, thank you so much for joining me this week. Always a pleasure chatting with you.
Erin Jones: Thank you for having me and my cane here today.
Andy Beal: All right. Well, we’ll let you get back to sitting on your front porch, and we’ll let our listeners get back to what they were doing. Thanks a lot for tuning in. We thank you for joining us, and hope you’ll catch us again next time. Thanks a lot and bye bye.