Facebook’s privacy head attacks ‘negative’ views around its use of WhatsApp data

As the social network integrates WhatsApp users’ data into its own systems, Facebook’s global deputy chief privacy officer claims all data businesses are being subjected to “unfair suspicion” due to a negative atmosphere in the media.

Facebook’s global deputy chief privacy officer Stephen Deadman has complained of the “negative” attention focused on how brands use data, which “puts all data businesses under the spotlight of suspicion”.

Speaking at consultancy Ctrl-Shift’s Personal Information Economy conference in London today (29 September), Deadman said: “The atmosphere is so negatively charged that anything you do is going to create negative headlines.”

He was responding to a challenge from the audience that the social network had gone back on a pledge upon acquiring WhatsApp that the messaging app’s customer data would remain separate from Facebook’s.

Deadman defended the move to share WhatsApp user data with Facebook, saying there was “nothing unusual” about it and that it should not fall under the label of a “scary” use of data since it was driven by the need to update systems, policies and security procedures developed when WhatsApp consisted of just a “handful” of staff.

WhatsApp remains a “very data-thin” business, Deadman argued, pointing out that Facebook had given users the opportunity to opt out of their WhatsApp data being used to deliver advertising on Facebook. It did so “not for compliance reasons but for sentiment reasons”, he added, as consumers were sensitive about use of their data, while other companies had failed to give the same options when making similar changes.

Facebook’s Stephen Deadman says the “negative” attention businesses get for using customer data is “unfair”

Facebook is also set to launch a new programme aimed at supporting startup businesses focused on the personal data economy. It plans to invest in solutions that shift the debate around giving consumers control of their data from being “a compliance problem to a design challenge”, according to Deadman.

Research carried out by Facebook and Ctrl-Shift over the past year shows giving consumers “autonomy” over their data “unlocks value”.

Further trends identified include a need to move towards familiarising consumers with intuitive technology rather than attempting to educate them about data use. There has also been a change in the perceived value exchange when consumers give data to brands, where they increasingly expect control over data.

Deadman said regulations such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation now recognise these demands for control. He believes there now needs to be a shift in compliance away from avoiding sanctions and towards serving consumer needs. There should also be a focus on outcomes rather than intentions through “iteration and experimentation”.

Deadman’s comments come as new research from the Chartered Institute of Marketing suggests 68% of marketers are wary of giving out their personal details to brands due to their ‘knowledge’ of how the data is subsequently exploited, while Ctrl-Shift’s own research with Ipsos MORI shows 74% are concerned about how businesses collect their data and 56% are unhappy with behavioural data being used to profile them.

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  • Jane1969 30 Sep 2016 at 12:58 am

    I simply don’t trust Facebook with my phone number collection. I’m old enough and ugly enough to deal with marketing rubbish, but not with angry messages from people whose phone numbers have been compromised because Facebook was running through the daisies with them. FB has a long history of privacy violations. I deleted the app.

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