New Study: Public Sentiment Towards Facebook Data Collection, Privacy, and Online Marketing in 2019

Thomas O'Shaughnessy's Photo
By Thomas O'Shaughnessy Updated February 6, 2023


Facebook Online Privacy Study

Say what you will about 2019, but there’s certainly never been a better time to be a marketer.

As the rate of digital consumption surges, the pool of consumer data being collected about each online user grows — thanks in large part to digital advertising giants like Google and Facebook (and their lax and/or opaque ToS policies).

Now marketers can use these tools to harness that data and target prospective customers with the right message at the right time.

While it might be a golden age for marketers, concerns around privacy and data collection are on the rise. Scandals like Facebook’s recent plain-text password debacle and the HUD lawsuit filed against Facebook's ad targeting practices have shattered the public’s trust in the tech companies that have become interwoven in our lives.

But how does this rising distrust of big data impact Americans’ willingness to engage with brands through digital channels?

As a growing real estate technology company, we need to understand where and how our marketing dollars are going to get the most mileage. To that end, we decided to survey 1,139 Americans about their feelings towards online advertising and privacy.

Read on for an in-depth look into public sentiment towards Facebook, privacy, online advertising, and data collection in 2019.

Key Findings

  • 80% of Americans have privacy concerns about Facebook
  • 95% of Americans are concerned about maintaining their privacy on social media in general
  • 76% of Americans find social media ads annoying
  • 83% of Americans find it creepy or annoying when a brand’s ads follow them around online (i.e. remarketing)
  • Website appearance matters — a lot. 86% of Americans and 92% of millennials say website/app appearance was important when deciding whether or not they’d offer up their personal information to a brand
  • Growing privacy concerns could affect many businesses’ bottom lines: only 30% of Americans are comfortable submitting their personal information online to a brand they’re unfamiliar with

Key Insights & Analysis

80% of Americans have privacy concerns about Facebook

Following a wave of privacy scandals, Mark Zuckerberg released a 3,200-word privacy manifesto detailing the six privacy principles Facebook will be rebuilt around over the next six years. However, critics were quick to question Zuckerberg’s sincerity.

How can a platform whose business model is built around utilizing its users personal data reform to respect its users privacy?

It seems the general public doubts Zuckerberg’s sincerity as well: 80% of Americans have privacy concerns about Facebook, according to our survey.

Of course, Americans probably should be concerned about their privacy. Here’s a brief list of the targeting options Facebook offers advertisers:

  • Demographics: Based on information users have shared about themselves on their Facebook profiles
  • Interests: Based on information users have added to their timelines, pages they like, apps they use, ads they’ve clicked, etc.
  • Behaviors: Based on users’ activities on or off Facebook, tied to their phones and third-party data sources
  • Connections: Based users’ friendships and how they’re connected
  • Location: Based on users’ current location and places they’ve been in the past
  • Remarketing: Based on third-party data imported into Facebook from external sources

In other words, when you don’t pay for a product, you become the product.

It’s no surprise our study found that 83% of Americans find it creepy or annoying when a brand’s ads follow them around online, and 76% of Americans find social media ads annoying.

But data collection isn’t just a Facebook issue. 95% of respondents were at least somewhat concerned about maintaining their privacy on social media, and 39% were very concerned.

With all of these targeting options available, Facebook is still the best social media platform for marketers to reach the widest audience possible. Clocking in at 2.32 billion monthly active users at the end of Q4 2018, it’s hard to ignore an ad platform with such a huge user base and wide array of targeting tools.[1]

For example, flat fee real estate agents and low commission real estate agents can take advantage of Facebook's local targeting and find users who are interested in buying a home. Top real estate agents regularly take advantage of targeting to grow their business.

73% of Americans who bought a product or service because of a social media ad said they saw it on Facebook, significantly more than any other platform.

Ironically, the public’s privacy concerns about Facebook are exactly why Facebook is so good at serving relevant ads to its users. These same ad targeting options are why HUD is suing Facebook. HUD is accusing Facebook of allowing real estate and mortgage companies exclude who sees their ads based on the users' race, religion, familial status, disability, or other characteristics. Excluding audiences invites advertisers to discriminate based on Facebook's massive database of private user data.

Hyper-relevant ad targeting is the biggest value add Facebook can provide to its advertisers; however, this kind of targeting could actually be social media Goliath's undoing if public outcry leads to fewer users and ad clicks.

According to our survey, only 37% of Americans have bought a product or service because of an ad on social media in 2019.

Compare that with 2017: A previous study from Curalate found that 76% of U.S. consumers purchased a product they saw in a brand’s social media post.[2]

This suggests that social media users are less willing to engage with native social ads and branded content now that they believe their privacy is at stake.

Our study also shows that Facebook may be losing its grip on the next generation of Americans. Young adults, age 18-34, were 62% less likely to buy a product or service after viewing an ad on Facebook compared to older generations.

This demographic is starting to gravitate towards YouTube and Instagram, which have their own privacy issues, minus the stigma — so far.

Meanwhile, 26% of Facebook users say they deleted their Facebook profiles after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, according to a Pew Research Center poll.[3]

Only 30% of Americans are comfortable submitting their information online to a brand they’re unfamiliar with

Online privacy concerns aren’t just impacting massive companies like Facebook; small- and medium-sized businesses are starting to feel the impact as well.

According to our survey, only 30% of Americans are comfortable submitting their name, phone number, and email address to a brand they’re unfamiliar with.

Where the internet was once a great equalizer for commerce, small businesses that depend on their websites to generate leads and new revenue will need to establish recognizable, trustworthy brands to compete online.

We found that the appearance of a company’s website has become increasingly important: 86% of Americans say a website’s appearance is important when deciding whether or not to submit their personal information. That number jumps to 92% when looking at only millennials.

Small mom-and-pop shops (with outdated websites) will feel the effects of public privacy concerns, as more consumers opt for online communication with well-known brands instead of phone and face-to-face conversations with lesser-known brands.

Full Survey Results

View full survey results here.


The proprietary data featured in this comes from an online survey commissioned by Clever Real Estate and conducted by Pollfish. In total, Pollfish surveyed 1,139 Americans. The survey was distributed using organic sampling on March 22, 2019.


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[1] Statista Facebook User Count

[2] Curalate Consumer Survey: Social Content is the New Storefront

[3] Pew Research: Americans are Changing Their Relationship With Facebook

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