Facebook is in more trouble than you think.

Critics of Silicon Valley have a saying: if you’re not paying for the product, you probably are the product. That became increasingly clear to the users of Facebook in the week starting 19th March.

The news that Facebook unwittingly allowed the harvesting of personal data of more than 50 million users has dealt the company a brutal jolt. That announcement – the result of dogged investigative journalism – came with a more injurious disclosure: all this had happened between 2013 and 2015, with little in the way of admission from Facebook.

What made matters worse was that the data weren’t used to sell margarine, but to steer public opinion in two of the most controversial events in recent global political history: the UK Brexit referendum and the 2016 US Presidential elections. People are touchy about messing with their politics.

If that wasn’t enough, the world had to wait an entire week for a comment from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. When it did come, his acknowledgement and apology gathered little traction. It was also too late to stop a flood of Facebook stock-selling. By the end of the week the company had lost $58bn in value – more than double Uganda’s GDP. That’s a big hit.

But probably the most damage was to the confidence of its users (or ‘product’, depending on how you see it). The call spread on social media to #deletefacebook. How’s that for irony?

For those reluctant to cut the cord, tech-savvy websites are instructing users how to switch off the default privacy settings that permit Facebook to share user data hoovered from all its social media platforms, including Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram.

The fun doesn’t stop there. On Monday 26th March, Ars Technica reported that Android Facebook users downloading an archive of their data ahead of deleting their accounts, have been uncovering metadata related to telephone calls and phone messages. In some cases this included numbers, contacts, and duration of calls. Facebook is now facing unprecedented reputational risk.

[This article originally appeared on the mindofafox Growing Foxes app in the week of 26 March 2018. Growing Foxes is a school strategic intelligence programme designed by mindofafox. It is being piloted in a number of leading schools in the UK and South Africa. The app serves to support those students currently engaging with the programme. Click on the logo to find out more]

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