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Do privacy issues make Facebook vulnerable to competitors?

The social media giant has upped its game but challengers are out there

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Photo (c) Dimarik - Getty Images
Despite being the first – and growing up to be the biggest – kid on the social media block, Facebook isn’t feeling the love like it used to.

Millennials didn’t like their parents being on the platform so they headed over to Instagram. Young Americans aren’t into it, either – both factors leading to some erosion of users.

Users of its app are driving down Facebook’s rating on both the Apple app store and Google Play too, saying they’ve had enough of things like phantom notifications and seemingly every other post being an advertisement.

How far will privacy concerns push users?

And then, there are scam and privacy issues -- particularly the latter. Facebook playing it loose in that area made Congressional leaders nervous but it’s also made lawyers rich. It all begs the question, are there enough tee’d-off Facebook users to create an opening for a competitor? 

Mara Einstein, professor at Queens College, City University of New York, told ConsumerAffairs that privacy isn’t yet the tail wagging the dog.

“Increased advertising. Yes. Not seeing the kind of posts I want to see from friends and family. Yes. Issues with the algorithm. Yes,” Einstein said. “There hasn’t been a significant correlation between privacy concerns and people leaving social media. The issue is, there are so many social structures in place that keep people attached to these platforms that even with concerns about privacy, people tend to stay.”

But, for those whose privacy is an issue, what do they do?

If a Facebook user is really concerned about their privacy, do they have viable options? When ConsumerAffairs looked into that, the pickings are pretty slim, but they do exist.

In all fairness, the company did say it was working on handing more keys to its users to decide what they do and don’t want out in the open. However, those switches aren’t automatically turned off so users do have to put forth some effort to try and keep prying eyes out of certain things.

According to Facebook’s disclosure on Google Play and the Apple app store, here’s where things stand in 2023 when it comes to privacy and sharing and what is “optional.” 

Info shared with third parties: Optional – including personal info, name, email address, user ID, and phone number.

Data collected: Optional – including location (approximate is required, but precise is optional), contacts (optional), name, email address, user ids, address (optional), phone number (optional), political or religious beliefs (optional), sexual orientation (optional), financial info (user payment info, purchase history, credit score – all optional), health and fitness info (optional), messages (emails, SMS or MMS, and other in-app messages – all optional), photos/videos/audio (optional), files/docs (optional), calendar (optional) app activity, web browsing.

One huge plus now is that users can request that their data be deleted

What about other apps? 

Sensing that Facebook’s dalliance with Cambridge Analytica and other privacy issues may be a bit too much for some, one Facebook-like privacy-protecting competitor has emerged: True.

It doesn’t share user info with third parties, nor does it collect personal info. In other words, you’re probably as far under a privacy thief’s radar as one can get.

And it has a believer. According to CEO Bret Cox, a Microsoft billionaire invested $18 million to help give the app enough wind at its back that it can convince people that it’s a family-friendly messaging home for their friends and favorite creators. 

The likelihood exists that other apps will join True.

“The search for a healthy and private alternative to social media will continue as more tools are developed to meet this growing need,” Joe Karasin, chief marketing officer at DigitalWill.com, told ConsumerAffairs.

"Jumping ship seems to be the only way to escape the data trap Facebook, Twitter and others have created for their users.”

Even though Facebook dispatched MySpace more than a decade ago, taking down Facebook at this point is a daunting task. Industry experts say many families are on Facebook and Instagram in order to stay in touch with each other. One family member is unlikely to switch unless everyone does.

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