Facebook pretty much holds the digital marketing world in the palm of its hands. They supply an unbeatable platform for paid advertising, making them an almost unavoidable presence in the digital marketing industry.
When you are at the mercy of a monopoly such as Facebook, you are forced to play by their rules. And when they start behaving badly and consumer trust starts to dwindle, there is no way out for digital marketers because they have been backed in to a corner.
Facebook Behaving Badly
Facebook have in essence created a perfect storm, as proven over the last year or so with their involvement in the Cambridge Analytica Scandal. There was a period of public outcry, followed by calls to reduce their power, but things eventually returned to regular scheduling and Facebook was hardly dented by the event.
In a recent headline by Julie Carrie Wong for The Guardian, she succinctly encapsulated the current state of affairs: “The Cambridge Analytica scandal changed the world – but it didn’t change Facebook.” Going on to demonstrate how Facebook have been very slow to rectify the privacy issues that have come to light in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Facebook offers its users a free service, relying on advertising to make their money, and in return marketers rely on Facebook to help sell their products. This has created an unbreakable catch-22 in which Facebook are so convinced that marketers will continue to advertise on their site, that they do little to make positive improvements and update their privacy settings.
Mark Zuckerberg has made a few half-hearted attempts to enhance privacy measures, including a recently posted manifesto titled ‘A Privacy Minded Vision For Social Networking’. Ordinarily, this may have been viewed as a tactic to maintain market share, rather than a genuine move to protect the security of their users.
However, to their credit, as of this week Facebook have made moves to block ad targeting which discriminates against certain users based on their gender, race or age. This is certainly progress and gives the digital marketing industry, and the world as a whole, a glimmer of hope that Facebook are actually making a conscious effort to do better.
In response to social media platforms’ slow removal of content showing footage of the recent terrorist attacks in New Zealand, the country’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, said in a statement that “They are the publisher, not just the postman … We cannot simply sit back and accept that these platforms just exist and that what is said on them is not the responsibility of a place where they are published.” (The Guardian.)
Another woman who dares to confront these powerful tech monopolies is Elizabeth Warren. She wants to break up Google, Facebook and Amazon in an effort to limit their control. This would help stimulate competition within the industry, as the three tech giants take up such a large percentage of the market share – leaving little room for anyone else.
Here in the UK, plans to change the way big tech companies operate are also afoot. The House of Lords communications committee are speaking out about the digital world, with Marketing Week reporting that they are ‘calling for a new, overarching regulatory framework that ensures players in the digital world are held accountable to an enforceable set of shared principles.’ With this in mind, it feels like change is in the air.
Digital Marketers will need to carefully monitor the situation in the coming months, as these monopolies will, through increasing pressure from either governments or users, be forced to become more transparent and accountable for their actions.
The position of those at the top is unlikely to be adequately challenged in the near future as there simply isn’t enough space for competitors. So those who work in the digital industries will have to continue working in a slightly improved, but fundamentally damaged system, until there is a radical overhaul. Looking on the positive side, however, this means that marketers won’t have to get to grips with new major platforms any time soon.
To answer the title question, it’s been a year since the public were alerted to the more insidious side of Facebook’s enterprise, but very little has changed. The Big Three have continued to grow from strength to strength with aspirations to amalgamate more of their services.
The only thing that has really shifted has been the perspective of the general public. With Facebook’s data leak back in October and popular techphobia being spurred on by TV programmes like Black Mirror, the tide is slowly beginning to turn. Although the lack of action from these companies indicates that they are not doing enough to clean up their act, the increased awareness and the prospect of government intervention demonstrates a widespread willingness to revolutionise the industry.
It is not so much about what has changed, but what will.