African Users Opine to Facebook's Data Scandal

Photo: This Day
Cambridge Analytica, a British company claiming that it worked for various election campaigns for African leaders, enhancing and tarnishing the image of individual leaders.

Facebook is the most popular social media network in Africa with millions joining in recent years. But is the Cambridge Analytica data scandal deterring Africans from using the social media giant?

For Facebook, Africa has long been a continent of opportunities. "Since we first established a direct presence in sub-Saharan Africa in 2015, Facebook has grown from strength to strengh", said Facebook's regional director for Africa, Nunu Ntshingila, last year when the company moved its regional office for Africa to new, bigger premises in South Africa's commercial hub, Johannesburg. According to the company's statistics, the number of Facebook users on the continent has grown by 42 percent since 2015 to some 170 million people last year.

Facebook put considerable interest in increasing its user base in Africa. In 2015, after it opened its Johannesburg offices, founder and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg toured several African countries. The same year, the network also unveiled its controversial "Free Basics" initiative which gives mobile users access to the webpage free of data charges. Facebook rolled out the initiative in 42 countries around the world, more than half of them in Africa. Facebook argues that the campaign is supposed to make a contribution towards development of the continent by giving more people access to the internet. Critics say it is a marketing ploy aimed at simply winning more members for the social network.

Africa is a target area for Facebook

Faced with limited or even stagnant growth in traditional markets such as Europe or the United States and more and more young people moving to other platforms, Africa does provide an opportunity for the social media giant to win more members. The number of internet users between Cairo and Capetown is still rising and every new internet user is also a potential new Facebook member.

But it's unclear whether the number of Africans joining the social network is going to continue to grow after a whistleblower alleged this month that the data managing firm Cambridge Analytica improperly harvested information from over 50 million Facebook accounts for Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

Many DW followers in Africa strongly disagree with the handling of private data by companies such as Cambridge Analytica. "Facebook must not sell our personal data without our permission. By doing that, the company violates its own privacy policies. It is not acceptable", Congolese user Bienvenu Kalemie told DW's French Service via WhatsApp.

'Boycott this network'

Bappai Sulaiman Nafada from Nigeria even goes a step further. "Stealing personal data is like a burglar that enters your house and steals property. I find it extremely bad", he wrote on DW's Haussa page. "I might leave them, they are letting us down", writes Chadema Tumaini Letu from Tanzania.

"Facebook is using our data without our approval to influence an election. To me, that's fraud", writes Mahame M. from Mali's northern city of Gao. His advice to Facebook users: "We should boycott this network or even delete our accounts."

But Milton Cardoso from Mosambique is determined not to do that: "I worry about how secure my data is kept but I don't intend to leave Facebook", he told DW's Portuguese Service. Ackim Jonaa says he is undeterred by reports on the data breach: "I only use Facebook to send greetings to my friends and family, so what? I don't thing that there is any use of that data", he wrote on the Facebook page of DW's English for Africa department.

"There is no way to avoid Facebook. It is a platform that brings different nationalities together", says Kiwele Iwvara from Tanzania's commercial capital Dar Es Salaam.

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