The #DeleteFacebook chorus had been growing in steam over the last couple of days, but it’s just been endorsed by the most unlikely voice yet — WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton.
Acton has put his weight behind the worldwide campaign against Facebook with a tweet simply saying “It’s time.” Until last year, Acton was a Facebook employee, after WhatsApp was acquired by the company for $19 billion in 2014. Acton had then worked with Facebook for 3 years, before quitting in September last year to start his own foundation.
It is time. #deletefacebook
— Brian Acton (@brianacton) March 20, 2018
Acton earned his riches through Facebook — he’s now worth $5.6 billion — but that hasn’t stopped him from attacking his former employer. Facebook has been in the eye of a storm over the last few days after it emerged that Cambridge Analytica, a company that had managed the digital marketing of Donald Trump’s campaign in the US election, had used utilized the Facebook data of 50 million Americans to target them with ads.
Now that by itself isn’t cause for concern — Facebook regularly lets advertisers target specific audiences through its ads platform, but Cambridge Analytica allegedly obtained the data on these 50 million Americans through slightly underhanded means. Academic researchers at Cambridge university had created a Facebook personality quiz app, and users were paid for answering a few questions. These users signed in through Facebook, and also gave the app’s creators permission to access data of their friends. By spending only $800,000, researchers were able to gather data on 50 million Americans.
While users who took the quiz had been told that their data would be used for research purposes, the researchers later sold the data to Cambridge Analytica. The company then used this data, which included Facebook likes, and answers to personality questions, to predict personality traits about specific Americans, including their stances on contentious issues like gun control and abortion, their political leanings, and other interests. Cambridge Analytica then served ads to these users which were tailored to their interests to get them to vote for Donald Trump.
Facebook has repeatedly maintained that no data breach took place, and has even suspended Cambridge Analytica from its ads program, but the public fallout of these revelations has been immediate. Facebook’s stock price has been dropping since the news broke, falling as much as 10% over the last couple of days, and there are now reports that US government authorities could be investigating the company as well. There has also been a reaction from people who believe that Donald Trump was unfairly elected, with several celebrities and people tweeting about #DeleteFacebook.
It’s unclear if the trend has had any impact, but Facebook would do well to be wary. Just last year, after Uber had been seen to be breaking a drivers’ strike that was protesting Donald Trump, a #DeleteUber campaign had taken off on Twitter, and thousands of Americans had deleted their Uber apps in protest. It had set off a chain of events that culminated in Uber CEO Travis Kalanick having to step aside from his position, and eventually had to leave the company. As of now, the reaction to #DeleteFacebook hasn’t been nearly as severe, but Mark Zuckerberg would do well to keep an eye on what’s going on — internet campaigns these days don’t take long to snowball into something much bigger.