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Facebook’s Slipping User Retention

Some worrying news for Facebook came out today (Sept. 9), as reports are emerging that downloads of both Facebook and Instagram have fallen in 2019. According to Bank of America analysis as reported by CNBC, the two apps combined have seen their mobile downloads decline by 13 percent year-over-year and were down 3 percent in Q3 when compared to the same time period in 2018. 

Of the two apps, Instagram was the relatively stronger player with its app downloads down 9 percent year on year, as opposed to Facebook, which saw its numbers down by 15 percent. Facebook is showing the lower figures, but Instagram is showing bigger losses. Facebook’s app downloads were down 4 percent at this time last year, while Instagram was still in growth mode and saw it downloads pick up by 4 percent. 

Both apps, according to BofA, are trending downward and sharply. The report offered no official explanation as to the lag in Facebook’s numbers, and its results are out of step with the rest of the social media segment, according to reports. Twitter, Snap and Pinterest all saw downloads increase during Q3, with Facebook nearly alone in experiencing a visible exodus.  

There was some speculation that the dipping figures are an indication of ongoing fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which raised questions in some consumers’ minds about how seriously Facebook takes consumer data privacy or how well equipped it really is to protect it. That alone isn’t enough of an explanation, given the Cambridge Analytica scandal was over a year and a half ago (approximately a decade in digital era time), and didn’t really affect Instagram users.

But Facebook’s data security reputation hasn’t exactly been sterling since the incident. Last week, a security researcher found an exposed server containing a database with more than 419 million records including 133 million records on U.S.-based Facebook users, 18 million records of users in the U.K., and another with more than 50 million records on users in Vietnam.

“This data set is old and appears to have information obtained before we made changes last year to remove people’s ability to find others using their phone numbers,” Facebook spokesperson Jay Nancarrow said of the discovery. “The data set has been taken down, and we have seen no evidence that Facebook accounts were compromised.”

Over the weekend Microsoft President Brad Smith blasted Facebook publicly for allowing cybercriminals looking to weaponize tech to “fester” on its platform largely unchallenged. 

“Digital technology has become both a tool and a weapon, and we need to address that head-on,” Smith said in an interview with The Washington Post. “And part of addressing it head-on starts with really understanding the different ways in which it’s either serving humanity or being weaponized.”

Smith went on to accuse social media firms of making money from “hatemongers posting vile content” and then ducking liability by hiding behind their status as a neutral platform.  

And then there are the antitrust investigations in the U.S. and around the world focused on whether Facebook (and its partners in Big Tech) are using monopolistic practices to consolidate their control of the market.  

Consumers may not be mad about Cambridge Analytica — or any issue in particular — but the steady drumbeat of  worrying headlines out of Facebook may have finally acted collectively to cool consumer enthusiasm. 

But Facebook is unlikely to take that lying down, as evidenced by the launch of its long-anticipated dating platform. If consumers aren’t feeling the love today — well, maybe Facebook can fix that by helping consumers find the love tomorrow. 

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