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CERN drops Facebook's Slack competitor, citing privacy issues and low usage

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Key Points
  • CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, on Friday ended its use of Workplace by Facebook, the company's communications tool for companies.
  • The organization disclosed its decision to stop using the enterprise Facebook tool on Tuesday, citing a lack of usage by CERN members and concern about data privacy. 
Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill April 11, 2018.
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, on Friday ended its use of Workplace by Facebook, the company's communications tool for companies.

The organization disclosed its decision to stop using the enterprise Facebook tool in a press release on Tuesday, citing a lack of usage by CERN members and concerns about data privacy.

"Many people preferred not to use a tool from a company that they did not trust in terms of data privacy," CERN said in its release. "To date, about 1000 members of the CERN community have created a Workplace account and there are roughly 150 active users of the platform per week."

Although it is normal for corporations and organizations to switch vendors, it is uncommon to make public announcements about them.

CERN began using Workplace when it was first launched in October 2016, when the tool was free to use. That changed after Facebook announced in October 2019 that Workplace had surpassed 3 million paid users. At that time, Facebook gave CERN a choice to start paying, or downgrade to a free version that would remove the organization's administrative rights and -- as CERN put it -- "send all data to Facebook."

"Losing control of our data was unacceptable, as was paying for a tool that was not part of our core offering for the CERN community," CERN said. "Therefore, we will end the trial of this platform."

After publication, Facebook disputed CERN's understanding of the terms, saying that CERN could actually have continued using a free version of the product without turning data over. 

"CERN saying that they were given a choice to pay or lose their administrative and data rights to Workplace is not accurate," a spokesperson said. "They could join Workplace today on our Essential tier, which would allow them to use Workplace for free and retain the same admin and data rights."

"CERN were originally on our Premium tier for free, and we asked them to either pay for the technology or downgrade to our free tier. They declined for cost reasons. In all three current tiers (Essential, Advanced and Enterprise), Facebook acts as the data processor, and our customers act as the data controller. Our customers retain all rights, title and interest (including intellectual property rights) to their data."

Workplace by Facebook has amassed a number of notable clients, including Walmart, Starbucks and Spotify, but the enterprise software service trails its more well-known competitors. By comparison, Slack counts 6 million paid users as of October 2019 while Microsoft Teams, which is bundled with Office 365, claims 20 million daily active users as of November.