On the Money

Facebook's privacy flap isn't just a Facebook problem, and users might be surprised by how much data is shared

Key Points
  • Facebook's privacy woes are just the tip of the iceberg, Recode's Ed Lee told CNBC's "On the Money".
  • People would be more inclined to unplug from the service if they realized just how much of their data is being shared, he said.

Regulating social media

Facebook is facing a backlash from its users and investors, after the company failed to disclose that millions of profiles were used by a third party during the presidential campaign without their consent.

Co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg broke his silence this Wednesday, followed by COO Sheryl Sandberg in an interview with CNBC on Thursday. Both executives apologized and said they were open to tighter regulation.

But was their apology too little too late? Recode managing editor Ed Lee thinks so.

"We found out they knew about some of the misuse of data from a few years ago. They just didn't tell anyone they knew that," Lee told CNBC's "On the Money" in an interview.

"We knew about this because some enterprising reporters started digging into how this data was used," he added. "And that tells us there might be a lot of other places, third parties that are using the data incorrectly or improperly."

More than 2 billion people use Facebook on a monthly basis, according to the company. And in the U.S. more than 80 percent of people age 18-59 are on the platform, according to a 2017 survey by Statista.

Researchers estimate that Facebook will generate $21 billion in ad revenue this year, up almost 17 percent from 2017. Yet it's still an open question as to whether the news will be enough to deter people from using the platform en masse.

"I think intellectually people realize, 'Oh it's a free service, I understand that I'm giving up something in exchange for that,'" Lee told CNBC.

"But if you were presented with the specifics of how they were used, I think people would probably flee in terms of 'I don't like how Facebook is using it," he added.

When it comes to regulation, the tech editor said regulators will be looking at social media and digital privacy across the board.

"It's not just a Facebook problem. It became a Facebook problem first, because they collect the most data," he said. "Unlike Google or Twitter who figures out who you are based on sites you visit, Facebook specifically knows your name, your birthday, where you live - and because of that they have the most prized set of data."

In the meantime, Lee said there are several steps Facebook users should take to understand what information is being shared with third parties.

"If you go into your Facebook profile, go to settings, there are lots of ways to turn things off in terms of how the data is used for advertising. If you are really concerned, turn all those things off," Lee said.

He also warns users to be aware of websites and apps that use a Facebook Login. "If you're concerned about those things, don't login with your Facebook ID, create a separate one specific to that app." Lee said if the website or app only requires a Facebook ID – don't use it.

However, if you are willing to sign up with a Facebook login, Lee says you should pay attention to how that company plans to use your data – which will be included in the notices he admits most people never read.

On the Money airs on CNBC Saturdays at 5:30 am ET, or check listings for air times in local markets.