Facebook Cuts Ties With Data Brokers

Facebook’s scrambling defence continues amid the fallout from two weeks of bad publicity following the Cambridge Analytica data sharing scandal

The firm has announced that it is severing its partnership with a number of large data brokers, which help advertisers deliver targetted adverts on the social network.

It comes after Facebook tweaked its privacy controls yesterday to make it easier to safeguard privacy, as it continues to carry out damage limitation measures in the wake of the misuse of data on 50 million users by Cambridge Analytica.

Intense pressure

After a week of radio silence following the revelations, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly apologised for the scandal and has pledged to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

But Zuckerberg and Facebook remain under intense pressure at the moment.

Billions of dollars have been wiped off the value of Facebook’s shares, and Zuckerberg has refused to face British MPs to answer questions over data abuse.

And in the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has said it will investigate Facebook over the matter. Attorneys representing 37 states are also pressing Zuckerberg to explain what happened, and the Facebook CEO, along with the bosses of Alphabet and Twitter have been invited to testify at an 10 April hearing on data privacy.

The US House Energy and Commerce Committee and US Senate Commerce Committee have also asked Zuckerberg to appear at a hearing.

Matters have not been helped after the scale of Facebook’s data collection measures was revealed last week, which included logs of incoming and outgoing calls and SMS messages from Android phones, dating back years.

This has led some organisations, such as Mozilla, to announce a plug-in for its Firefox browser to halt Facebook’s collection of data “via its network of trackers across the web.”

And organisations such as Telsa and Elon Musk, Playboy, and comedian Will Ferrell have, or are in the process, of deleting their Facebook pages as the #deletefacebook movement gains traction.

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has also spoken out about the scandal and the need for privacy, and Brian Acton, a co-founder of WhatsApp (now owned by Facebook) has called for a Facebook boycott.

Severing ties

And now in the latest damage limitation move, Facebook has said it is halting its partnership with data brokers.

For years the social networking giant had given advertisers the option of targeting their ads based on data collected by companies such as Acxiom and Experian (itself the subject of a data breach in 2015).

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,” Graham Mudd, a Facebook product marketing director, was quoted by Reuters as saying in a statement.

Facebook reportedly declined to comment on how the change could affect its ad revenue.

However, it should be noted that advertisers would still be able to use third-party data services to measure how well their ads performed by examining purchasing data, Facebook said.

Facebook reportedly works with nine third-party data providers including Acxiom, Experian, Oracle Data Cloud, TransUnion and WPP.

UPDATE: Facebook’s move to cut ties with data brokers has been welcomed, by the UK’s Information Commissioner.

“I welcome Facebook’s announcement that it will be shutting down its partner category service, using third party data to inform targeted advertising,” said Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham.

“I have been examining this service in the context of my wider investigation into the use of personal data for political purposes and had raised it with Facebook as a significant area of concern,” said Denham. “The use of third party sources of data will be covered in more detail in the report my office will publish soon.”

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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