SAN FRANCISCO: Fewer than half of American respondents to a Reuters/Ipsos survey trust Facebook to comply with privacy laws, a sign that the social network has much work to do to maintain trust.

The poll, which ran over three days last week, surveyed 2,237 online respondents from across the United States. It also compared the levels of trust among other data-gathering tech companies, including Facebook’s fellow GAFA giants: Google, Amazon, and Apple.

Facebook was one of two companies that fell beneath 50%. Just 41% of respondents trusted Facebook to obey laws designed to protect personal information. Yahoo was the next lowest with 47% of respondents saying they trusted it to do the same.

The other companies in the poll were regarded more favourably: Amazon was trusted by 66%, Google by 62%, and Microsoft by 60%.   

The findings come as Facebook faces its most significant PR crisis following revelations by the Guardian and Observer that Cambridge Analytica, a political data company known for its work on Donald Trump’s general election campaign, had gained access to 50 million users’ personal information through dubious means.

Speaking to CNBC on Thursday, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg acknowledged that this was a “critical moment for the company” to overcome the “issue of trust”.

Some analysts believe that the platform’s essential stickiness and user friendliness will see it through a crisis that has hit the company’s valuation. For instance, bank customers did not immediately go elsewhere with their money after the 2008 crash.

However, the way in which the story has gained traction among the public suggests latent concerns are coming home to roost. One respondent to the Reuters/IPSOS poll noted the ineffectiveness of ad personalization based on incorrect assumptions. “If I show an interest in healthy eating, all of a sudden all of the ads are about weight control and exercise and how to lose weight,” she said. “I just get inundated.”

The story gets complicated at the murkier end of digital marketing. Writing in the Verge, Alexandra Samuel, formerly of customer intelligence company Vision Critical, recalled pitches from companies often touting millions of customer profiles, understood to have emerged through scraping friend data. But the issue of trust following the Cambridge Analytica revelations may come from a different place.

“The fundamental problem is the gap in understanding about what Facebook’s business model actually is,” according to Sam Weston, a consultant who spoke on record to The Verge.

“You know how Target’s business model works, or how Apple’s business model works, but nobody understands how these folks [digital marketers] actually make money … [Facebook] did a good job talking to Wall Street about how their business works, but at no point did they actually talk to their users.”

What matters to Facebook’s model is the continued flow of users and dollars from advertisers – and, according to an analyst that spoke to Buzzfeed, indicators of user interest – such as first-time app installs – are so far unchanged

Sourced from Reuters, The Guardian, CNBC, The Verge, Buzzfeed News; additional content by WARC staff