Facebook wants to apologise to us. Should we let it?

Facebook’s recent TV marketing campaign in the UK isn’t actually their first foray on to our home screens; they’d done it before about three years ago, even prompting some commentators to wonder why they’d bother. Yet their slightly corny, nostaligic advert certainly is notable for being the first I can remember that is apologetic in its tone.

Trying to dispell fears about fake news and clickbait flies in the face of the costly Cambridge Analytica scandal. And no doubt the back-to-basics language and clips of regular, warm posts we all used to love are a solid attempt at trying to close the door on the past and move on. But I wonder how many users are really moved by this, and how many more actually care at all.

It’s worth saying that in any aspect of marketing, a recovery campaign is a very difficult place to start from. You’re doing little more than trying to keep the brand afloat in stormy waters. The briefing to their creative agency must have been an interesting session; you can see how the thinking evolved by telling a story of where Facebook used to be.

I did some work a few years back with the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office, the data regulator in the UK. When discussing the broad issue of user privacy, they talked earnestly about the simple balance between benefit, or what someone will get in return for an entity obtaining and processing their data, and intrusion, which is their personal cost for sharing it. Ideally, the two would be balanced. A good example of this is CCTV in public spaces. Yes, there is some intrusion in that we’re being recorded and monitored, but the benefit is our own personal safety: arguably a fair exchange.

With Facebook, I believe there will be a minority of users who feel that, in light of the data scandals and changes to the feed algorithms, the balance is too one-sided. The intrusion far outweighs the simple benefits of being connected to friends and family. Contrast this with Google. I use many of their services – my commute would be lousy without that priceless traffic layer on Google Maps – so sharing my location data with them feels a reasonable price to pay. Throw in their oft-used calendar and email services too and it’s not a bad exchange.

Amazon also collects lots of data about us. I don’t use Alexa and only switch on Prime for about three months each year before Christmas, but however valuable my varied and infrequent purchasing history must be to them is a fair share if they can recommend any useful products to me. Ditto Strava; their free fitness tracking app is amazingly detailed if all they do is sell the anonymised data to sports companies and the like.

Facebook are lagging here I think. It’s been researched that they know you as well as a colleague within 10 Likes, and after about 70, better than a close friend. Certainly, the feed algorithm has been updated over the last year to a fearsome level of personal insight that is, well, a little creepy at times.

Despite all this, the brutal reality is that the majority of its users just don’t care; they see the data we generate of such little value it’s barely worth worrying about giving it away. That holiday photo we were tagged in abroad could tell a marketer something about our interests, income and demographic. To the user, Facebook provided a simple platform to share it with our friends.

The same applies for passwords and other elements of security. 123456 was the most popular in 2017. Ironically, this was discovered following a study of hacked data but it tells us more than the simple facts that this sequence was chosen as it’s easy to remember or convenient to type. It’s really used because its owner doesn’t care or get punished if it becomes compromised.

Maybe in time we will discover more about our own self-worth, and manage our online presences more carefully based on that useful intrusion versus benefit ratio. It should be 1:1 at all times. If Facebook could adhere to that ratio, the apology campaigns might be a rarer sight.


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