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27 March 2018 Written by 

Facebook's Cambridge Analytics scandal - a Herts expert overview and advice

A Hertfordshire digital marketing agency gives insight into how the Facebook Cambridge Analytica data mining scandal affects businesses.

Mark King, Senior PPC Account Manager at Hertford-based digital marketing agency www.ithinkmedia.co.uk discusses the future of Facebook advertising.

What is the Cambridge Analytica scandal?

The data analytics company allegedly harvested personal information from more than 50 million Facebook profiles to use to target voters in the US presidential election with personalised political advertisements.

Facebook is under fire because it had known about this data breach since 2015, but only suspended the Cambridge Analytics researcher responsible for harvesting the data this month. Facebook has also had several warnings about its data security in recent years. Facebook has publicly apologised and is investigating other applications which have access to its data.

The tech giant's stock has plummeted, with CNN estimating its market value to have dropped by $59bn since the data breach was unveiled.

How will it affect Hertfordshire businesses?

I don't think it will affect advertising too much – the breach is more about apps on Facebook and the data that they are allowed to receive/request from users rather than advertisers. Default security and privacy settings do leave a big hole for apps to collect as much data as they want from Facebook users which could be a concern. How much of the data we use is legitimate?

Facebook user figures are now under threat with search variations for 'delete Facebook' increasing 423% since the news broke, according to internet behaviour monitor Hitwise.

I expect that more businesses will follow suit. The drop in market value might continue with the loss of advertising revenue – at least in the short term. Advertising revenue makes up the majority of Facebook's income. I'm not sure that many people will actually leave Facebook – consumers are addicted to social media – I think it will take more than a breach like this to drive them away from social platforms. This might mean more uptake on other social platforms though.

At the end of the day, as an agency, we work better with more data. The more we have available the better our advertising can be. Most of the data we use is interest data, classified by Facebook based on what is knows about its users - 'Page Likes' and how users interact with other business/pages/groups - but also behaviour data which is provided by third parties. Most of this data is collected by companies like Acxiom. They compile market research and segment the data based on user behaviours like 'who's about to buy a new car', 'who has an anniversary coming up?', 'when does your car insurance come up for renewal?'. They then provide this data via the Advertising API.

What should Hertfordshire businesses do?

Companies should continue to advertise, but be more careful of the data that they are using to find their customers – at the end of the day you don't want to alienate the people that you are trying to drive to your business by finding them by using data they didn't know was there. Monitor responses to your ads in the comments to ensure that the targeting you are using is getting you in front of the right people and not annoying anyone.

I think it's quite important to note that data collection on website users is NOT an unusual practise – most websites collect data in the form of cookies. These provide data to analytics platforms which allow you to collect user behaviour and interests. On the Google display network this also allows you to target users based on websites that they visit and their interests. Facebook is the same. Other than the sheer amount of information that can collect – the only reason that they have so much data in the first place is because people are now spending around 30% of the time they are online, on social media. (https://www.socialmediatoday.com/marketing/how-much-time-do-people-spend-social-media-infographic)

Once Facebook has tightened up their data collection policies there is no doubt that any company no longer Facebook will flock back quite quickly. Facebook is, after-all, a fantastic advertising platform with targeting not really matched by any other service. Once consumers and businesses are reassured that there will be no further problems I would expect the bad press to die down, but in the mean-time businesses shouldn't let the scare-mongering put them off. Facebook advertising is really powerful already and can be matched with existing or past customers and combined with remarketing data.

You can find Mark or one of our search marketing experts at www.ithinkmedia.co.uk

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