Privacy concerns are the main reason people are dropping Facebook these days, a small but telling study suggests. If this sentiment becomes a trend, it could have far-reaching repercussions for businesses that have embraced the social network as the bedrock of their customer outreach, authentication, or marketing initiatives.
This month, psychologist Stefan Stieger and fellow researchers at the University of Vienna published a study based on a survey of 300 Facebook users and about 300 people who had left the social media site. Obviously, that's a teensy percentage of Facebook's more than 1 billion worldwide subscribers, so it's dangerous to ascribe a trend to what can be compared to a flea bite on an elephant. But lots of flea bites eventually hurt even the biggest pachyderm.
Among those who left Facebook, 48 percent did so due to concerns over the site's privacy. Fourteen percent left because of a general dissatisfaction with Facebook, and 13 percent were fed up with meaningless conversations and negative interactions with Facebook Friends, the study found. Six percent quit over fears they were becoming addicted to the site.
Privacy fears are understandable in light of Facebook's recent ad changes and its planned changes to its governance policies, which include incorporating users' faces into ads and expanding photo tagging. Privacy groups have asked the Federal Trade Commission to block these changes.
Last year, businesses spent $4.3 billion on Facebook for sponsored stories, side ads, promoted posts, sponsored apps, and event sponsorships, according to Uberflip. If prospective customers are losing faith in the vehicle, could they blame the brand?
Personally, I hide every single ad that pops up on my Facebook page when I check in via cellphone. There's something invasive about an ad that takes up half the page. It's particularly intrusive for Facebook ads to tell me so-and-so Liked this page. I've pretty much stopped Liking pages -- in case my efforts to prevent my name from being used in this manner have been unsuccessful. I don't want to inflict this pet peeve on others, even though I miss the satisfaction the click of a Like button can bring.
In the past few months, several of my friends have quit Facebook. All of them left, at least in part, because they were worried about privacy. Only one cited annoyance at other people's posts as another major reason for leaving the site.
Of course, losing a few people isn't going to change Facebook's policies or profitability potential. If enough people left, that could force Facebook to open its eyes. Users who remain with Facebook, like me, could be altering their use patterns. This would reduce its value for brands and advertisers (and the users themselves) in a no-win battle to maintain some semblance of privacy and control.
Have you changed how you interact with Facebook? Have you left the site recently? Let us know in the comments.
— Alison Diana , ThinkerNet Editor, Internet Evolution