By Jonathan Vanian
November 8, 2018

Facebook is the least trustworthy of all major tech companies when it comes to safeguarding user data, according to a new national poll conducted for Fortune, highlighting the major challenges the company faces following a series of recent privacy blunders.

Only 22% of Americans said that they trust Facebook with their personal information, far less than Amazon (49%), Google (41%), Microsoft (40%), and Apple (39%).

“Facebook is in the bottom in terms of trust in housing your personal data,” said Harris Poll CEO John Gerzema. “Facebook’s crises continue rolling in the news cycle.”

The finding is just one of many that underscore the damage to Facebook’s reputation along with that of its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. In question after question, respondents ranked the company last in terms of leadership, ethics, trust, and image.

In April, Facebook acknowledged that a researcher had improperly accessed and sold personal data of up to 87 million users to political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. In September, Facebook admitted to another privacy disaster: A hack that included the emails and phone numbers of up to 30 million users.

Adding to the bad news, Facebook failed to prevent Russian entities from spreading fake and misleading news in prelude to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Although the company has added staff to fight false information and is building technology to automatically flag it, the company continues to struggle with fighting disinformation.

The stakes for Facebook are high. Daily active users in the U.S. and Canada has remained stagnant over the past year at 185 million, although it’s unclear whether that’s because of privacy worries or that adding more is difficult because a huge slice of those countries’ populations are already active.

Facebook declined to comment about the poll. The company instead pointed to remarks Zuckerberg made recently in which he said that the company continues to invest in security and that its defenses are improving.

In an effort to determine the impact on Facebook’s image, and how it compared to its tech giant peers, Fortune enlisted Harris Poll to conduct a survey on its behalf of over 2,000 U.S. adults representing the population at large. The online poll was done in mid-October and also included questions about Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Google.

The findings show that public perception of Facebook has tumbled. Forty-eight percent of respondents said they viewed Facebook more negatively than six months prior, dwarfing the 17% who said they felt more positively.

That increased negativity is three to eight times greater than other big tech companies over the same period. For example, only 7% of respondents said they felt more negatively about Microsoft while 28% had a more positive view. Amazon had the biggest gain among the companies in terms of perception. A mere 10% of respondents felt more negatively about the company over the past six months versus 39% having a more positive view.

Facebook’s poor showing in the poll comes despite a number of privacy problems involving other companies included in the poll. But the public appears less concerned—or aware—about those problems than Facebook’s.

For example, Google recently caught flak for “Project Dragonfly,” an experimental search engine that it’s considering introducing in China that censors results that the government there considers objectionable like about human rights. Meanwhile, Amazon and Microsoft are in the cross hairs for controversial deals with government agencies, including one involving facial-recognition technology that some critics say could lead to a surveillance state or racial discrimination.

 

Public mistrust extended to Zuckerberg, Facebook’s public face during its privacy crisis and who once said that Facebook has “a responsibility to protect your information, If we can’t, we don’t deserve it.” The company subsequently fell victim to a hack but continued operating as usual, including debuting a video-conferencing device intended to be used in people’s living rooms or kitchens and that further extends Facebook’s reach into more areas outside of personal computers and smartphones.

Only 59% of respondents said they were “at least somewhat confident” in Zuckerberg’s leadership in the ethical use of data and privacy information, ranking him last among four other tech CEOS. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos led the poll with 77%, compared to Apple CEO Tim Cook with 72%, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella with 71%, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai with 68%.

“That would be a C or D in grade school,” Gerzema said about Zuckerberg.

 

Despite Bezos’s top ranking on data ethics, however, Gerzema noted that Bezos and his company typically receives higher approval in other Harris polls, sometimes even reaching the high 90%s.

“This is just a theory, but I think we are practically on the cusp of growing societal concerns of Amazon’s increasing reach in our lives,” Gerzema said.

The fact that Amazon continues to expand into more businesses like health care after already uprooting the retail and enterprise tech industries may prompt people to take a dimmer view of it, like they did with Microsoft during the late 1990s, he speculated.

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As for Facebook, the social networking giant may have a difficult time regaining public trust because of its repeated problems. Consumers are more likely to forgive a company if they believe a problem was an aberration rather than a systemic failure by its leadership, Gerzema said.

For now, the public isn’t in a forgiving mood when it comes to Facebook and Zuckerberg.

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