Facebook is so universally accepted by consumers and businesses that it's one off those companies where we trust the small print in its terms and conditions without too much scrutiny. 'People like us' all do it so, (as with the most powerful of nudge messages), it must be okay. Like with banks, we have a utilitarian state of trust in it. We choose to believe that it's so successful it must be legit.
As I mention banks, it reminds me that I've already reported some clearly prescient observations about large tech firms going down the same road as the finance institutions prior to the crash, (see Fear, Mistrust and the Digital Divide). The companies themselves are as blind to their own failings as we are, convinced that success must mean they're doing everything right and bewildered when challenged in the court of public opinion: “Google, Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Uber and Airbnb, have responded with varying degrees of openness to the growing chorus of anger around topics such as (not) paying taxes, labour exploitation, misinformation, fostering propaganda, offence, polarisation, and mental ill-health,” said a blog published by the London School of Economics.
On top of all this, EU regulations to tighten consumers' digital security could not come at a better, and yet worse, time. The idea that GDPR, which comes into force on 25th May 2018, will mean companies can only hold data on us that we consent to is great news for people who fear being spied upon and manipulated. But at the same time, it serves to heighten that fear and damage trust in any of us trying to engage people online - and probably offline too. I am tempted to say it makes everyone feel like the misuse of data about us is commonplace but, depending on where you draw the line between use and abuse, it already is.
Another thing I've looked at already in these blogs this year is how far behind the technology curve regulators and governments are. I highlighted the risks of open banking, (see Open banking, closing doors). It is pretty much universally heralded as a great hope on the 'tech for good' agenda because it could help many to manage their money more tightly, but there really is a risk financial exclusion could deepen and that that personal data could be pillaged here too. So it's interesting to note governments worldwide persecuting Facebook for mining and sharing data as they have. Not only is it a fundamental element of the tech firm's business model, selling advertising space that targets users of certain backgrounds in certain areas, it uses a form of the very technology our own government has said it wants Britain to be a leader in, AI, (Artificial Intelligence). No-one is joining the dots and it's a mess.
It is with a wry smile that I read posts and news reports on Facebook about people quitting the platform. It's never people who use Facebook for fun, the very people filling out data-reaping personality quizes to find out what Star Wars character they are, and never people for whom it might be their main engagement with the internet. In other words, it is perhaps the least digitally excluded who are walking away, the ones who understand the risks most, the likes of Elon Musk. Bye bye, metropolitan elites.
So how do we build trust in our legitimate, socially motivated activities? It's the million dollar question and one I'm devoting a lot of time to as we develop the Quids in! digital offer, which is a mix of money emails, interactive web content and, yes, social media. Saga's approach is to include 'scams', 'myths', 'lies', 'tricks' or similar in the subject line of no less than eleven of their past 25 money emails since the New Year. This may create trust in them as consumer champions but I reckon it doesn't do much to promote modern, digital lifestyles. An alternative is to go hell for leather on introducing online consumers to deals and help that saves subscribers big but the next 'scandal' to be exposed will be the extent to which money bloggers and even mainstream names like MoneyMagpie and MoneySavingExpert make money through these links. It is a legitimate business model but the lack of understanding about them shared by consumers and governments could wind up with a backlash along the lines of Facebook.
That said, Facebook have messed up big time. They have taken trust for granted and it cost them dear, with $60 billion wiped off their stocks in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. But what has come to light in the mainstream media is just the tip of the iceberg. There are potentially records of every message (public or private), every picture (innocent or indecent), every quiz response (puerile or revealing), every political comment (for or against), and every purchase (premium or low rent) global tech firms are storing about us. Storing without our conscious consent. And when these facts, or we ourselves, are exposed, it will leave many consumers wondering, 'If they can't be trusted, who can?'