As pressure mounts on Facebook 15 million Americans stop logging in

Exodus comes amid heightened scrutiny over the social media platform's privacy policies

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg. Users in the 12 to 34 age bracket are leaving Facebook at the fastest rate. AP
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg. Users in the 12 to 34 age bracket are leaving Facebook at the fastest rate. AP

Facebook has 15 million fewer active users in the United States than it did in 2017, as the world's biggest social media company faces heavy criticism over privacy concerns and advertisers quit the platform.

"The numbers [of active users] peaked in 2017, fell in 2018, and again in 2019, so naturally that appears to indicate a trend," Larry Rosin, president at Edison Research, the US company that conducted the study, said in an emailed response to The National.

The exodus is most prominent between ages 12 to 34. Edison's study found that 82 million in that age group were actively using Facebook in 2017 but today only 65 million reported being on it.

People of 12 to 34 age set are increasingly favouring the photo-sharing Instagram, with more than a quarter of users saying it is the social media platform they use the most, up from 15 per cent in 2015.

"It is worth noting that while Facebook has declined, Instagram has gained. So Facebook, as a corporation, maintains a very strong hold on social media in general," Mr Rosin said.

While social media habits are changing in the western world, Facebook's disturbing data-sharing disclosures and privacy blunders have not affected its financials. Net income surged 61 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2018 and 39 per cent for the full year with revenue reaching $55.8 billion. The company's shares are also up 28 per cent this year.

However, the social media giant is starting to show cracks as public trust erodes amid public scandals over its privacy policies. Some advertisers are beginning to take their ad budgets and marketing strategies elsewhere.

David Hansson, a partner at technology company Basecamp, said last December his company would stop using Facebook completely, CNBC first reported. Tesla, SpaceX, Mozilla and celebrities such as Will Farrell have also left the platform.

"We've decided to become a Facebook-Free Business at @basecamp starting today," Mr Hansson, also a prominent programmer with over 300,000 Twitter followers, wrote in a tweet. "No Facebook, Instagram, no WhatsApp. No ads. No profiles. No pages. No usage. No more."

While business exits from Facebook are anecdotal, if users continue to shed the app from their daily lives, the decline could pick up pace among other companies who, aside from taking a moral stand, can advertise more lucratively with others.

Last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that 11 of the most popular smartphone apps – representing tens of millions of downloads – have been sending sensitive user data to Facebook including heart rate, real estate preferences and female users' ovulation cycles. The information was reportedly being used by the social media company to sell more targeted advertising.

Of the 11 apps tested and the findings validated by an outside cyber-security company, not one provided Facebook users any obvious way to opt out of having their information shared.

Since the story surfaced, some apps on the Android operating systems are reportedly still sending user data to Facebook.

On Wednesday, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg laid out his plans for a more "privacy-focused" Facebook that offers end-to-end encryption in a 3,000-word blog post.

Updated: March 8, 2019 02:19 AM


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