21 March 2018

Our view on the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandal

With the scandal around Facebook and Cambridge Analytica continuing apace, we couldn’t ignore it in the OneChocolate blog this week. Since the story first broke in Saturday’s Guardian (hats off to them for true incisive journalism), it has since gathered great speed and momentum on both sides of the Atlantic and created a huge international storm.

Immediate actions have already been taken, with Cambridge Analytica suspending their CEO, Alexander Nix. While some are saying that CA is the scapegoat and the problems lie firmly with Facebook, the undercover story from Channel 4 clearly demonstrated other unpleasant parts of this scandal.

The Channel 4 report showed Nix suggesting to prospective clients that he could “send some girls around to the candidate’s house … Just saying we could bring some Ukrainians in,” he said, adding “they are very beautiful, I find that works very well.”

Hmmm, nice chap!?

By Monday, the story wiped $40bn (£29bn) from Facebook’s market value which created further excitement in the news. Meanwhile Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg have been nowhere to be seen, but Zuckerberg has now been summoned to Parliament to explain himself today. No doubt we are all watching with baited breath to see what happens next.

However, it will be interesting to see what transpires long-term.

The lid has been lifted on something that has been brewing for quite some time. Was it inevitable that something like this was bound to happen?

As Rory Cellan-Jones said on Radio 5 this morning, “You wouldn’t get on an aeroplane without all the safety and security checks being put in place for you first, would you?” We have been using the likes of Facebook in this way for quite some time. When all the fuss dies down what does it mean for our industry?

Data is powerful stuff, and according to The Economist, the most valuable resource in today’s society. The industry is falling over itself to provide businesses with customer data, so they can provide targeted personalisation of their services. Many in the technology sector are focused on data and how to maximise it. Will our industry behave differently after the storm? The answer is, they will have to. The market has grown phenomenally over the last five years or so and gotten out of control with few laws, rules or regulation. It felt like everyone was smashing and grabbing for a share of the action. The industry will now have to start self-regulating and do its own due diligence, checks and balances to ensure consumers’ personal information is used legally and correctly. No doubt regulators will put in new safety measures and laws to protect us all too, but new laws will take a while to come into force. Meanwhile, it’s up to the industry to put on its own seat belts and safety harnesses.

For consumers – we love using social media tools, to share our news, photos of our friends and family, shop online and download apps that are specific to the kind of lifestyles we lead as individuals. None of that will stop. We all benefit from this and no doubt we wouldn’t want it to change. But surely now we are going to be a lot more cautious and careful about which apps we share our personal information with and how much information we share. We are certainly going to be more cautious about signing up for apps via Facebook – certainly the lazy and easy way of doing it! We will want much greater transparency in the future and will want to know what information they have on us, where it is going and who it’s going to be shared with.

None of this will happen overnight. The industry has grown too rapidly for that to happen. But like the aeroplane analogy, people will want to know that they are all strapped in, that security checks have been made and that the plane is safe for flight.