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Facebook data security flaw exposes a crisis of customer faith

(Bloomberg Opinion) --As in any relationship between people, once a company loses the trust of its customers, there is a long, lingering period of suspicion that the company will do something egregious again.

There is suspicion that greedy banks will take on too much risk again. That Chipotle will make customers sick again. And that Facebook Inc. is too creepy and irresponsible to be an unquestioned staple of daily life. Once trust is gone, it’s incredibly hard to win back and every misstep is magnified.

That is what is happening to Facebook on Friday after it reported it discovered a security flaw that potentially allowed attackers to hijack people’s Facebook accounts. The company said the flaw affected almost 50 million accounts, and Facebook logged 90 million people off their accounts as a safety measure. The company didn’t say whether anyone’s account had been hijacked by exploiting the security flaw it outlined.

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A woman checks the Facebook Inc. site on her smartphone whilst standing against an illuminated wall bearing the Facebook Inc. logo in this arranged photograph in London, U.K., on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015. Facebook Inc.s WhatsApp messaging service, with more than 100 million local users, is the most-used app in Brazil, according to an Ibope poll published on Dec. 15. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

At least based on the available information from Facebook, the company acted quickly and responsibly once it discovered the technical vulnerability. But again, it doesn’t matter.

Facebook shares dropped more than 3 percent on the news, and it set off another round of news reports that reminded people about Cambridge Analytica, Russian propaganda, Myanmar violence and more. (Facebook lost more market value from the security flaw than Tesla lost on Friday after its CEO was sued by the government for securities fraud.)

To people already understandably weary of Facebook after two years of scandal, the combination of the words “Facebook” and “compromised data” are enough to bring up all the bad feelings about the company. This is what the loss of faith looks like, and it’s hard to imagine Facebook winning people back anytime soon. Everyone at Facebook may believe it’s unfair that the company is being criticized at every turn, but reality bites.

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