Almost Two-Thirds of UK Public Believe Social Media Companies Sell Their Data Without Consent

Social media companies have lost a significant amount of trust from the British public over the ways they collect data and the negative behaviours they enable, according to public relations company Edelman. Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer, which measures global trust in governments, businesses and media, finds a majority in the UK believe social media companies engage in shady practices around data, and would like to see more done to regulate them.

The Trust Barometer surveyed over 3,000 respondents in the UK to gauge their trust in a variety of institutions. The data for social media companies was highlighted by Edelman as the most significant in the UK this year as results found a high levels of distrust in the industry.

A large proportion of Britons showed concerns about what goes on behind the scenes at companies like Facebook and Twitter: 62 percent said they believe social media companies sell users’ data without their knowledge and 63 percent said these companies lack transparency.

Facebook and Google have both previously taken steps to address these concerns, for example by providing tools for individuals to see all the data that’s collected on them. These results, however, suggest that this hasn’t been enough to gain the public’s trust.

Edelman finds that the UK public would like to see more done by external authorities to limit bad practices, as 64 percent said social media companies are not sufficiently regulated. While companies operating in the UK will be subject to the EU’s upcoming General Data Protection Regulation which seeks to bolster individuals’ control of their own data, some analysts expect it to leave the likes of Facebook and Google relatively untouched.

Edleman’s UK CEO Ed Williams however believes that social media companies can improve their image themselves if they put in the necessary effort. “It’s time these companies sat up and listened. The public want action on key issues related to online protection, and to see their concerns addressed through better regulation. Failure on their part to act risks further erosion of trust and therefore public support,” he said.

The survey highlighted other problems for social media too, with familiar criticisms around fake news and extremism cropping up as expected. Fifty-three percent of respondents said they worry about being exposed to fake news on social media, and seven in ten said they don’t think social media companies do enough to prevent sharing of extremist content on their platforms.

As a result, trust in social media as a source of news and information dropped from 26 percent last year to 24 percent. In contrast, traditional media has seen a massive upswing in trust, rising from 48 percent last year to 61 percent this year.

Whether these concerns have an impact of the social networks themselves remains to be seen. The results suggest they might be cause for concern as young users in particular are starting to drop off, with 17 percent of 16-25s saying they’ve stopped using Twitter and 11 percent saying they’ve stopped using Facebook in the last year.

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