Tech PR pros question 'Facebook's trust issues' after Instagram data security breach

Technology PR professionals have questioned whether Facebook can be trusted after its latest data security breach exposed 49 million Instagram accounts, although one expert believes there is nothing more the social media platform could have done.

Earlier this week, TechCrunch reported that the personal details of almost 50 million Instagram users, including high-profile influencers, were found stored online in an un-guarded database.

This included emails and phone numbers of users in a database that was linked to Chtrbox, a Mumbai-based marketing company. Instagram owner Facebook is investigating this latest data breach.

PRWeek approached experts in technology PR to find out what this latest issue could mean for the social media platform.

Hayley Coleby, senior social media director at The PHA Group, pointed out that although Facebook has experienced several data breaches in the last couple of years, the timing of this incident is far from ideal.

"Now Instagram has been exposed, [it] raises the question: have they have taken on more than they can handle?

"This particular data breach, affecting 49 million Instagram accounts, is particularly sensitive for Facebook, as they are planning on launching their crypto currency any day now. If consumers aren’t able to trust the social media giant with their email addresses, how can they trust them with their money? Facebook need to make a serious U-turn with their policies or they risk losing more investments and users."

Jennifer Reid, director of B2B tech PR specialist CommsCo, also questioned the timing and trust factor.

"49 million users on a third-party database – more insult to injury for Facebook," she said. "It doesn’t exactly bode well for Facebook’s imminent crypto currency launch, which I think many will be giving a wide berth.

"If Facebook can’t keep my email address and phone number safe, how can I trust it with my digital wallet and credit card details on an exchange that will have the same standards of security applied to it?"

Not all PR professionals feel it is fair to point the finger too firmly at Facebook. 3 Monkeys Zeno digital strategy and innovation director Rob Stone told PRWeek there is very little Facebook or any social media company could have done to prevent this type of data breach.

He said this is different from past data breaches because the data hasn’t been leaked or hacked from that platform itself, nor was it supplied by Facebook to a third party, such as in the Cambridge Analytica situation.

"Facebook aren’t at fault and there really isn’t much that any of the platforms can do to stop data-scraping beyond the measures they already employ, such as API throttling and banning access to the platform, both of which can be easily circumvented," Stone said.

He also believes this shouldn’t alarm marketers who want to are careful in how they execute influencer marketing campaigns.

"Building huge influencer databases has very little value compared to a bespoke approach that carefully considers a brand's objectives and finds the best fit for a particular campaign or activation, and there are a wide range of much more useful and dynamic tools we can use to do that," he said.

"We should be building value through individual relationships with people who are genuinely influential, not commoditising influencers and only focusing on the numbers."

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