When It Comes to Privacy, People Fear Facebook Most

The big social network also has the unfortunate distinction of being the company viewed as most likely to have a corporate scandal.

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By Ari Levy


This story originally appeared on CNBC

Whether it's a barrage of creepy ads or the constant and confusing tweaks to its settings, Facebook is the technology company that consumers most fear when it comes to privacy. That's according to a poll conducted for CNBC.com by SurveyMonkey.

Among those surveyed, 45 percent said Facebook is the company that most concerns them in regards to collection of personal data. Google was second at 21 percent, followed by Apple at 6.6. Thirteen percent said privacy isn't a concern.

Facebook also has the unfortunate distinction of being the company viewed as most likely to have a corporate scandal, according to 35 percent of respondents. Apple was second at 14 percent, and Twitter was third at 10 percent.

The 10-question online survey was taken by 547 randomly selected adults (18 and over) across the U.S., covering all income brackets. They completed the survey from Oct. 29 to 30. The reported data has a 3 percentage-point margin of error with a 97 percent confidence level, SurveyMonkey said.

Privacy is an issue Facebook has wrestled with since its early days, but it reached a fever pitch earlier this year, after the company stripped the messaging feature from its main mobile app. Members who wanted to use the texting option had to download the separate Facebook Messenger app, a service that's been widely criticized for the amount of data it gathers.

"Small things like that erode peoples' faith in a company," said Bradley Shear, managing partner at Shear Law LLC in Bethesda, Maryland, and an expert in social media law. "People are really concerned about these issues and it's no longer just lip service."

Facebook declined to comment on the survey.

Sam Fiorella, a partner at tech consulting firm Sensei Marketing, wrote a piece in the Huffington Post prior to the forced separation of Messenger, warning consumers about the app because it "requires you to allow access to an alarming amount of personal data and, even more startling, direct control over your mobile device."

CNBC.com reported last week that Facebook Messenger is the lowest-rated among the top 30 free apps on iOS and Android.

Facebook is well aware of the privacy issue, even if it's done little to improve consumer perception. This year, the Menlo Park, California-based company, which generates more than 90 percent of its revenue from ads, rolled out a privacy checkup tool to give users better control over what information other people can see. It also made available an anonymous login to let people try out apps without divulging personal data.

Additionally, within each promotion, there's a link that lets users see why they're being shown that ad and a tool that allows them to change the types of ads they want to see. In its third-quarter earnings report, Facebook said the number of ad impressions delivered to consumers actually declined. It's compensating by generating significantly more revenue per ad.

Shear said that Facebook and Google need to be much more proactive in protecting privacy in order to placate leery consumers. That includes supporting legislation like the Social Networking Online Protection Act (SNOPA) to limit how digital companies can use personal data and prevent employers and other institutions from asking for passwords.

"Until they forcefully say, `We care about customer privacy and this is why we care,' there's going to be a perception problem," Shear said.

Privacy concerns aside, consumers love their gadgets and apps. According to the survey, the tech world is gearing up for an extended battle between Amazon.com, Apple and Google.

When asked which company will be most successful in 10 years, 24 percent of participants said Amazon, 21 percent chose Google and Apple was picked by 17 percent. For the retail investors in the survey, 17 percent said they'd be most likely to buy stock in Amazon, with Apple and Google at 16 percent and 15 percent, respectively.

The three companies are vying for a bigger slice of the smartphone and tablet businesses as well competing in markets like online and mobile payments, video streaming, digital music and connected devices.

As for a desired place of employment, there's no contest. Almost one-third of respondents said they'd most want to work for Google, followed by Amazon at 11 percent and Apple at 10 percent.

Apple declined to comment. Representatives from Amazon, Google and Twitter didn't respond to requests for comment.

Interestingly, success and innovation are viewed very differently by survey participants. While Amazon was voted the most likely to be successful in a decade, five companies are seen as more technologically innovative 10 years from now: Apple (25 percent), Google (21 percent), Tesla (15 percent), Microsoft (12 percent) and Samsung (11 percent). Amazon was chosen by 6 percent of participants, far better than Facebook at 1.5 percent and Twitter at 0 percent.

As if that wasn't enough Facebook skepticism. The survey suggests that many people view the company's current $206 billion market value as little more than smoke and mirrors. A full 23 percent of respondents said Facebook is the company most likely to be obsolete in 10 years. Twitter was second at 15 percent.

Conversely, among existing social networks, Facebook is also the one most likely to be dominant in 10 years, according to 23 percent of those surveyed. It easily outpolled Twitter, LinkedIn and Snapchat in that category.

But Facebook wasn't the most popular answer to that question. "A new company that doesn't yet exist," was picked by 53 percent of respondents.

(Incidentally, SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg is married to Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.)

Ari Levy

Ari Levy is CNBC's senior technology reporter in San Francisco.

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