In this article, we focus on perceptions towards Facebook and personal data privacy. The research consisted of an online survey conducted on our platform questia.ro which was active between April 17th and April 18th 2018. The survey covered 500 respondents, with a +/- 4% margin of error when reported to the Romanian online population.

Overview

Facebook now has 2.1 billion active users, out of which 1.4 billion use the site every day, according to Statista. Being a platform dedicated to social networking, Facebook enables people to share ideas, photos and life events with friends. This, in turn, contributes to Facebook building a high-resolution image of all its users, putting an emphasis on emotions.

The Facebook – Cambridge Analytica scandal revolves around the fact that Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics company, collected without permission personally identifiable information of up to 87 million Facebook users. The data was used to influence the voters’ opinions and bias them on behalf of the politicians who hired them.

The subject became viral mainly due to the new EU General Data Protection Regulation. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a regulation included within the EU law as a way of safeguarding private data for all individuals belonging to the EU. According to BBC, its main purpose is to embody a data protection regime suitable for the modern digital age. GDPR’s regime actively seeks to give back individuals power over their data, by forcing those who process data to show more transparency when it comes to processing activities and responsiveness to demands.

The Guardian states that Cambridge Analytica used all those profiles to build a software that had the ability to predict and influence choices and thus, the vote intention. The company had been collecting data since 2014 “to build a system that could profile individual US voters in order to target them with personalized political advertisements”. The data was collected through an app called “thisisyourdigitallife” that was created by researcher Aleksandr Kogan independently from this work at Cambridge University. His company (Global Science Research) and Cambridge Analytica paid hundreds of thousands of users to take a personality test and agreed to have their data collected for academic use. However, the app also collected data from the test-takers’ Facebook friends which led to gathering personal information from millions of users.

What matters the most is that they managed to create a powerful political tool that allowed a campaign to identify possible swing voters and craft messages more likely to resonate. It is believed that the data analytics company played a role in both Trump election campaign and Brexit campaign. A former Cambridge Analytica employee told The Guardian that they used psychology, “the same methods the military use to effect mass sentiment change. It’s what they mean by winning ‘hearts and minds’. We were just doing it to win elections in the kind of developing countries that don’t have many rules”.

Christopher Wylie, who worked with a Cambridge University academic to obtain the data, said that: “We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on.”

On March 16th, after news of this event went viral, Facebook announced that is suspending Cambridge Analytica and SCL Group from the platform.

However, as The Guardian reports, the declarations of the parties involved seem inconsistent as Cambridge Analytica’s chief executive, Alexander Nix, denied using Facebook user data: “We do not work with Facebook data and we do not have Facebook data”, while the academic Aleksandr Kogan, who harvested personal details of millions of Facebook users through the personality app he created, claims he passed the data to Cambridge Analytica who assured him that this process was legal. The soap opera continues as Cambridge Analytica states that they had nothing to do with the 2016 US presidential campaign: “We did not use any GSR data in the work we did in the 2016 US presidential election. […] we immediately deleted the raw data from our file server, and began the process of searching for and removing any of its derivatives in our system.” The Wired reports that Cambridge appears to have lied to Facebook about entirely deleting the data.

This event didn't come as a surprise to Facebook as it was presented with evidence that its platform had been exploited by Russian hackers to Trump’s advantage, in November 2016, The New Yorker reports. Facebook discovered the information had been harvested by a third party in late 2015 but failed to alert users at the time. "This was a breach of trust, and I'm sorry we didn't do more at the time," Zuckerberg said.

The social media platform is passing through a hurricane at the moment, as is put metaphorically by The Wired. Even if it was already grappling with intense criticism over the spread of Russian propaganda and fake news, in the last month it had to deal with numerous scandals: Friday tweets from an ad executive, porn, the darn Russian bots, angry politicians in Sri Lanka, and even the United Nations.

It was not long before the consequences started to unravel. Right after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook was hit with four lawsuits in Northern California federal courts. Since news of the scandal, Facebook has shed a little over $100 billion in value, its lowest point since July 2017, as Fortune reports.

The Information Commissioner of the investigation, Elizabeth Denham, says that: “We are investigating the circumstances in which Facebook data may have been illegally acquired and used. […] It’s part of our ongoing investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes which was launched to consider how political parties and campaigns, data analytics companies and social media platforms in the UK are using and analyzing people’s personal information to micro-target voters. […] It is important that the public is fully aware of how information is used and shared in modern political campaigns and the potential impact on their privacy.” She also said that the inquiry was “complex and far-reaching”, involving more than 30 organizations including political parties and campaigns, data companies and social media platforms.

According to NBC, Facebook has three groups it needs to mollify right now: shareholders, policymakers, and of course, consumers. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has already apologized about Facebook’s responsibility to users. NBC relates that “A key concern for shareholders is that these privacy scandals will push policymakers to create new regulations that will curb the profitability of online advertising”. Facebook must also prove its case to policymakers. The company already announced that its data policies will suffer a few changes that would reshape its privacy menus, rewrite its terms of service, and introduce a new way for users to access copies of their data.

However, the manipulation game doesn’t stop here. In September 2016, The Wall Street Journal newspaper issued in the same day two directly opposite headlines about the same story involving Donald Trump, sold in different areas depending on the level of political parties in that area. One of the headlines stated that Trump had softened his stand on the issue of immigration after meeting Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto, while the other carried a contradictory headline saying he had toughened his stand on immigration.

Now, the concern for personal data usage is even more highlighted. Below we share some articles that outline the most important issues of the moment regarding data privacy:

Now let’s talk a little about whether and how these events changed how Facebook is perceived by its users. A recent study regarding the public’s perception of Facebook found that the social networking platform is not well viewed across the world. Australia, Canada and the U.K. gathered up the highest share of respondents, of 33%, who claimed that Facebook is having a “negative impact on society”. 32% of Americans, which roughly translates to 54 million people, say that Facebook has a negative impact on society. For an accurate perspective, this makes Facebook less damaging than Marlboro cigarettes but a lot worse than McDonald’s fast food, as is reported in The Verge. In comparison with Google, Facebook is still considered as being worse, since Google is perceived to have a negative impact by only 7% of respondents. Japan recorded lower percentages, but that is due to the fact that people don’t use Facebook as much.

CNBC writes that opinion polls in the United States and Germany cast doubt over the level of trust people have in Facebook over privacy. Fewer than half of Americans trust Facebook to obey U.S. privacy laws, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, while Germany's largest-selling Sunday paper, found 60 percent of Germans fear that Facebook and other social networks are having a negative impact on democracy.

Is Facebook really reshaping the way we present ourselves to society? Below, we present some data to shed some light on Romanians’ opinions of Facebook and data usage privacy.

Results

People like to stay connected and that can be seen in the results below: all our responders use at least one social network. Facebook is the most used social media platform with 98.4% of respondents saying that they generally access it. Next comes Google+ with 43.2% of respondents using this platform and Instagram which is used by 39.2% of our users.

Our respondents think of themselves as not being dependent on Facebook with 39.8% saying they are neither dependent nor independent and 32.0% saying they are independent of the platform.

It appears that our users have a rather good opinion about Facebook, with 94.4% of users saying they have a good and very good opinion of the social media platform and only 5.7% have a poor and very poor opinion of it.

The perception of Facebook as a rather positive thing by 94.4% of respondents is also reflected in the fact that the tendency is for users to think that Facebook does not impact their lives (with 76.6% saying Facebook makes their life neither better nor worse) or it makes their life better (22.0%).

However, most responders (70.2%) trust to a small and very small extent the manner in which Facebook manages their personal data. Thus, it seems that our responders might not be that concerned about the private data policy because even though they have trust issues with how Facebooks handles their private info, the platform is perceived as a rather positive thing.

Users’ opinions are spread regarding the awareness of the Cambridge Analytica news, with 38.6% saying they have heard much about the subject and 38.0% saying they have heard little about it. However, almost a quarter (23.4%) of them haven’t heard anything about this scandal, proving our previous statement that Romanians, due to the lack of information, might not be aware of all the implications of personal data usage and policies and thus, explaining their lack of concern about this subject.

Social networks are seen as a mean of bringing people together (62.8%) rather than promoting individualism (37.2%).

However, it is believed that social networks rather help youngsters waste time by 74.6% of respondents instead of growing (25.4%).

To our responders, social networks have a positive impact on how people get informed (52.4%), how people communicate (47.4%) and human relationships (40.8%). The last one correlates to a previous question from this study where they answered that social networks do not promote individualism (62.8%).

Moreover, they believe Facebook does not impact in any way a country’s policy or democracy with 62.6% of responders saying they think Facebook impacts neither positively nor negatively a country’s policy and 61.2% that Facebook impacts neither positively nor negatively a country’s democracy. Germans are more firm about this subject, as documented in the results of a similar study, where 60% of Germans said they fear that Facebook and other social networks are having a negative impact on democracy.

As for competition between people, 51.6% of responders believe Facebook does not impact it in any way.

However, the biggest negative impact appears to be in regards to free time, with 40.4% of responders believing Facebook impacts negatively their leisure time.

Don’t miss Questia Group's articles. Find out more about consumer behaviors, attitudes and beliefs regarding numerous topics, from marketing related subjects to social ones.