4 Steps Facebook Should Consider to Repair Its Post-Cambridge Analytica Reputation

Opinion: The beauty of the social network is not only the data, but also the two-way dialog

A few simple changes may keep Facebook in business for years to come
JasonDoiy/iStock

Let’s face it, no one wants to be in Mark Zuckerberg’s Adidas slides lately. The co-founder and CEO of Facebook appeared before Congress last month to answer questions on how the company handled user data and privacy, in addition to being accused of connections to efforts that undermined democracy and created cultural divisions—pretty heavy accusations for a brand whose mission is to “build community and bring the world closer together.”

During Senate questioning, I winced when Zuckerberg refused to share personal information on what hotel he stayed at, yet he allowed Facebook to sell personal user data to Cambridge Analytica. The “I’m sorry” and “we are listening” responses from Zuckerberg were not good enough, right?

Or maybe they were.

The real narrative here is that Facebook is a business, albeit one born in a dorm room and run by a T-shirt-wearing 33-year-old billionaire. Like most social media platforms, Facebook’s product is data. Everything you do on Facebook results in data. That data is what makes Facebook so personalized, engaging and profitable. Without the data, there is no Facebook. Tell that to the 2.2 billion monthly Facebook users, some of whom check their News Feeds 25 times per day or more.

While Zuckerberg recently hinted at adopting data collection formats similar to the EU’s upcoming General Data Protection Regulation and recently closed Facebook’s data-matching Partner Categories program, it makes sense to me that Zuckerberg would balk at sharing the specific details and timing for changing Facebook’s business model.

But does that mean the social network doesn’t need to be fixed? No. It’s clear that changes need to be made in both action and perception of how Facebook balances privacy, transparency and veracity. So, let me put on a gray T-shirt and my Adidas slides and share four ideas on what Facebook should do next.

  1. Give users a simple data opt-out feature: Yes, while data is the lifeblood of Facebook, many people want assurance that their personal data is safe in order for them to remain active users. Zuckerberg needs to make a “don’t use my data” opt-out button easy and prominent. But Facebook also needs to remind users what they will be missing by opting out of the highly personalized, data-driven experience they’ve come to expect from the social network.
  2. Adopt a premium subscription service alternative: We’ve all seen polls predicting that people won’t pay for Facebook. Yet we’re completely fine paying for Netflix, HBO, Hulu or Spotify to have an ad-free experience. A premium offering may not be adopted by the masses, but it would give those most at risk for leaving Facebook peace of mind that their News Feed won’t be infiltrated with malicious sponsored content. More important, this model would provide Facebook with some revenue to offset those who choose to receive no paid advertising.
  3. Create a self-regulated advisory panel for all sponsored content: Today, anyone with a credit card and a message can buy highly targeted, often inexpensive ads on Facebook. Compare that to the substantiation needed to air a TV commercial, and it’s a no-brainer not to do this immediately, especially with the rise of hate speech and violence associated with sponsored content on Facebook globally. A Facebook-led solution—likely using artificial intelligence and human detection—would keep its data scientists in control of the platform versus allowing the Federal Communications Commission to impose what could likely be an antiquated regulatory process.
  4. Listen. Listen. Listen: To sound cliché, the Wild West days of Facebook are over. Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg realize this fact. Ignoring public sentiment and favoring ad-revenue-based platform changes will lead to its demise: Just ask MySpace. The beauty of Facebook is not only the data, but also the two-way dialog that will help the company listen and respond to what people, and not only shareholders, want.

Nearly $40 billion in Facebook ad revenue in 2017 and a rising stock price post-congressional hearings could mean that I’m wrong. However, let’s all keep in mind the power that social movements can create (hint: #DeleteFacebook).