Facebook loses Tesla and SpaceX over data furore

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March 23, 2018 7:45 pm Published by

Tesla founder Elon Musk said the company’s Facebook site ‘looks lame anyway’ © Reuters

Elon Musk, the billionaire boss of Tesla and SpaceX, has deleted his company’s Facebook pages in protest at the data leak scandal engulfing the largest social network.

It looked like just another offhand tweet on Friday when Mr Musk, who enjoys skirmishing with his 20.5m Twitter followers, took a jab at Facebook, which is reeling from revelations that political consultant Cambridge Analytica had accessed data from 50m Facebook profiles without the users’ consent.

But after being goaded by other Twitter users, Mr Musk agreed to scrap his company’s official Facebook marketing pages. Responding to a suggestion that he delete the Tesla page, he said: “Definitely. Looks lame anyway.” Within minutes, both the Tesla and SpaceX pages — with more than 5m followers and “likes” between them — had vanished.

It was a characteristic piece of personal grandstanding to end a week when many in the corporate world have wrestled with how to respond to the Cambridge Analytica scandal — and done nothing.

The few gestures there have been pointed to a wariness about giving up a platform that has become central to modern marketing and advertising. Sonos, the music speaker maker, was one of the few to stick its head above the parapet.

“We are concerned by the recent revelations about Facebook and the exploitation of its platform,” Sonos said, before saying that it would pull advertising from Facebook, Instagram, Google and Twitter — but only for one week. It followed Mozilla, the maker of the web browser Firefox, and Germany’s Commerzbank, which said on Thursday they were pausing advertising on Facebook.

One reason for the general inaction is the addiction that many corporate markets have to the Facebook data that has been at the centre of this week’s scandal, said Brian Wieser, analyst at Pivotal Research. 

Among those notable by their absence this week as public criticism has swirled around Facebook have been Unilever and Procter & Gamble, the consumer products giants. Two of the biggest global advertisers, they have been forceful critics of the digital advertising market.

As the week ended, meanwhile, the personal discomfort of Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook chief executive, looked set to continue. The US Senate’s commerce committee called for Mr Zuckerberg to appear publicly to answer questions. The company privately briefed committee staff on Thursday, but senators John Thune and Bill Nelson said they wanted to hear from the chief executive himself. 

“On a bipartisan basis, we believe Mr Zuckerberg’s testimony is necessary to gain a better understanding of how the company plans to restore trust, safeguard users’ data, and end a troubling series of belated responses to serious problems,” they said in a statement.

Cambridge Analytica said on Friday it was undertaking a third party audit to verify it did not hold any of the Facebook data passed to it by Global Science Research, the company that obtained it for research purposes. The board has also launched an independent investigation into the parent company SCL’s past practices surrounding elections. 

Dr Alexander Tayler, the new acting chief executive, said he has been working with the UK information commissioner since February 2017, when the company provided “total transparency” on the data it holds and how it processes it.

Advertisers’ willingness to stick with Facebook through its crises stands in contrast to a widespread boycott of Google’s YouTube last year after brand messages were found to be placed next to videos from terrorist and hate groups.

Industry executives said the Facebook privacy breach did not raise the same brand safety concerns for advertisers that YouTube had, so they were unlikely to abandon a platform that the industry sees as an effective way of reaching huge audiences.

One media buyer at a leading holding company said that while there were “healthy conversations” with clients “seeking guidance” on Facebook, “brands are having a harder time assessing what the ramifications may be.”


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