Facebook Fallout Continues, While Many Changes Are Underway

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MENLO PARK, Calif. – On the heels of the Cambridge Analytica debacle, Facebook is busy implementing changes it hopes will restore some semblance of normalcy. Among the adjustments: more fact checking, advertising alterations, hiring lobbyists, and a possible trip to Washington for CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

One of the company’s first moves was to close its Partner Categories program, which let Facebook integrate data brokers into its targeted advertising system, combining details collected from “public records, loyalty card programs, surveys, and independent data providers,” as Facebook explained it on its website. The Partner Categories program allowed Facebook advertisers to target users based on their activity off Facebook and even offline, such as when the user shops for a home or a car. 

A Facebook spokeswoman said in a statement about the change: "This product enables third-party data providers to offer their targeting directly on Facebook. While this is common industry practice, we believe this step, winding down over the next six months, will help improve people's privacy on Facebook."

Bloomberg reports Facebook is also adding lobbyists to help shape any new policies that may come out of Washington in the wake of the data breach scandal and Russian election meddling. Among the hires are privacy and public policy managers, a government outreach manager, associate general counsel positions, and a couple of policy managers to help draft positions on tech and video policy issues. Facebook still trails Alphabet (Google) and Amazon in lobbying spend.

Another change focuses on content. The company said in a blog post it is also fact-checking photos and videos to increase election security. Specifically, it’s combating foreign interference, removing fake accounts, increasing ad transparency, and reducing the spread of fake news.

As part of the blog post, Guy Rosen, a Facebook vice president, wrote: "None of us can turn back the clock, but we are all responsible for making sure the same kind of attack [on] our democracy does not happen again."  

In another move, Zuckerberg may travel this month to Washington – he has said he is willing to answer lawmakers’ questions. In addition to Congress, The National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) is seeking answers from Zuckerberg, as is Parliament in the United Kingdom. 

Despite all of Facebook’s efforts, some are calling for an all-out Facebook boycott. Matt Smith, CEO of an ad firm in Virginia, writes in MediaPost News that not only should consumers quit the social media giant but all media and advertising companies should, too. “Just because the technology exists doesn’t mean you have to, or should use it,” Smith writes. “Facebook has become the AR-15 of social media. It’s toxic. So like the smart, wonderful kids from Parkland, send a message to Facebook where it hurts. In the wallet, in the stock price, and do it now.” 

And the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) added its voice to the fray, calling on the industry “to strengthen consumers’ fundamental rights to privacy."

Its statement reads in part, "The current global outrage over the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data issue represents enormous frustration with institutions that fall short on promises of protection and safeguards."

The ANA added that these institutions should "systematically report back to consumers what advertisers know and what choices consumers have to protect their privacy."