Tech seeks trust

Facebook privacy.png

I don’t want everyone to see what I’m sharing on Facebook

Why does the Facebook algorithm know me so well?

With your ‘private sphere’ check it’s you who decides about important settings

It’s you who decides which ads Google will show you

Walking around Hamburg last week, there seemed to be an OOH ad for Facebook or Google on every street corner, says Sabine Stork. They were seemingly aimed at reassuring customers … ‘not to worry, privacy will be protected by the respective brands’; ‘no, nothing sinister is going on behind the scenes’ and, ‘just trust us – you, the user stays in control of your privacy using our service’.

Apart from the distinct impression that both brands maybe protesteth that bit too much to come across as entirely credible, why this trust offensive in Germany?

Well, as any international market researcher will know, Germany has had, for a long time, far stricter data protection laws than its European neighbours. Well before GDPR, getting consent, capturing video footage and re-contacting respondents have all been more difficult, and sometimes impossible. And Germany is the only global research market I have come across where respondents have asked me what would happen to their data, and where older male focus group participants especially can demand information on confidentiality – usually just before the moderator has had the chance to supply it.

The reasons both for the nervousness and stricter legislation lie in the country’s history – both the Nazi dictatorship and the East German state kept all-encompassing tabs on their citizens with sinister-to-disastrous consequences. Those older German consumers Facebook now relies upon –  since the brand is no longer trendy for youngsters – reacted strongly to the Cambridge Analytica scandal and trust in the original social network has dipped considerably in the last few months.

And there are signs that this loss of confidence is affecting other Silicon Valley brands … which is the likely reason why Google feels the need to also go into advertising reassurance overdrive.

Will it work? Well, the jury’s out on that. I conducted some groups in Hamburg last week. When talking about confidence in various brands, one group’s verdict on Google and Amazon was somewhat damning “You can’t trust them, they’re just not very likeable companies”.

Sabine Stork is a founding partner of Thinktank International Research