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Zuckerberg Goes to Washington: What Advertisers Need to Know

By now, everyone knows that Facebook is in a world of hurt over recent revelations about the company’s failure to secure data belonging to approximately 87 million of its users. The news about Cambridge Analytica’s abuse of user data – and Facebook’s inaction in the wake of Cambridge Analytica’s behavior – has launched a #DeleteFacebook movement, and put CEO Mark Zuckerberg on the defensive. Today, he will begin his testimony before Congressional committees amid rumblings to address this, and other issues related to governmental regulation of the world’s largest social network.

For advertisers worried about how these events might impact their efforts on the Network, followed are a few questions we would ask Zuck:

What steps will you be taking to ensure that the privacy of your users is protected going forward?

It is critical that Mark Zuckerberg assure Facebook users that the company is safeguarding their data. So far, he’s not been very convincing. In the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, many interpreted Zuckerberg’s silence as damning. His Congressional appearances will give him a national forum to reveal his plans and reassure the public that this is an issue to be taken seriously. Prior to his April 11 appearance before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, he released a prepared testimony outlining the actions Facebook was taking. It’s very likely that the testimony, dense with detail, muddied the issue even further. Simplifying and clarifying his message and reassuring users is critical.

How long will it take Facebook to safeguard user data?

Zuckerberg has said that cleaning up Facebook’s privacy problem could take as long as three years. Will users lose patience and #DeleteFacebook in greater numbers? Will advertisers pull back their commitment pending a more aggressive remediation timeline?

As an advertiser, I’d like to know that my investments in your platform are well spent. What steps are you taking to protect my brand and ensure ROI? 

On the surface, Facebook’s commitment to protecting user data should help advertisers by restoring confidence in the platform and protecting brands from being held accountable by association. That said, advertisers would do well to keep a careful watch for any residual fallout as Zuckerberg dials up the company’s efforts to make good. For example, in an attempt to prove their commitment, Facebook has begun the amount of data third parties can leverage. The move has already raised concerns among advertisers: some fear that having access fewer targeting choices could result in diminished ROI, while others are wary about partnering directly with Facebook to do audience targeting and advertising. As Acxiom director John Battelle shared in a Medium blog post, Facebook is shutting down choices for advertisers, which he says is a dubious move given Facebook’s questionable reputation for protecting user data. Zuckerberg could face a grilling about this issue and questions about practices that might appear monopolistic.

As a brand, what can I do to ensure my fans that I respect their privacy?

Among the most the most important questions brands should be asking is, “What can we do to ensure that the privacy of our users is protected?” Now is a good time to do a gut check and ensure that you are exercising proper opt-in practices across every touch point and securing permissions where and when warranted. Think not only of your practices, but how well you communicate your practices. Do you hide your data collection policies behind a fog of legalese embedded in a user agreement, or do you openly and clearly share with users how their data is used and to what end?

The next few days will be telling. Mark Zuckerberg needs to pull off an enormous task: help the public understand:

  • That there is a huge difference between using their data to create targeted ads legitimately – it’s called making ads relevant to users – and abusing user data.
  • That Facebook is aggressively safeguarding user data to prevent future abuses.

What people so quickly forget is that joining a social network like Facebook for “free” does come with a cost. You give up information about yourself – information that the platform uses to improve your experience and, in some cases, sell things to you. When a platform does its job well, you don’t mind – in fact, we like advertising content when we care about it. But when it drops the ball, we begin to feel devalued and disrespected.

 

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