Fecebook user data was allegedly used to inﬂuence voters in the EU referendum and the US Presidential election of 2016, with British ﬁrm Cambridge Analytica making use of information illegally gleaned from 50 million Facebook users.
Posted April 4,2018 in News and Politics.
It’s well known that Facebook has a treasure trove of data used to target advertising and products at its users. But third parties and developers can only harvest user data if it’s used to improve their services and apps; they cannot sell it on.
Back in 2014, Cambridge University academic Dr Aleksandr Kogan created a personality quiz app called ‘this is your digital life’ and encouraged approximately 270,000 Facebook users to ﬁnd out what their personality type was, under the knowledge they were agreeing to have their data accessed for academic research.
Facebook had a fairly relaxed policy towards who could tap into its data back then, allowing app developers to access information on users and their friends, even though consent to do so only came from an app’s user. With this in place, data on a couple of hundred thousand people turned into a mass of information from tens of millions of Facebook users.
All this was within Facebook’s data policies at the time, but Kogan apparently breached the rules by passing on the collected data to analytics and political strategy ﬁrm Cambridge Analytica, all without the knowledge of those taking part in the original quiz.
Facebook got wind of this and asked Cambridge Analytica to delete the data, but it allegedly did no such thing, and Facebook failed to take proper steps to recover the data. Cambridge Analytica reportedly went on to use the information to proﬁle Facebook users and attempt to steer their political support in favour of the Vote Leave campaign in the 2016 EU referendum and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
This meant the company was illegally using Facebook data, as it was tapping into information in afashion people had not agreed to. Cambridge Analytica refuted the allegations and claimed that it had done nothing wrong.
However, Christopher Wylie, who worked with Kogan to harvest Facebook user data and pass it on to Cambridge Analytica, said the company used the data to psychologically proﬁle people and target pro-Trump content at them.
Cambridge Analytica is now being investigated by the UK Information Commissioner’s Oﬃce, as well as US authorities, Facebook and its own internal auditors. Facebook is also facing scrutiny over how it allowed developers to access data, and its protection of users’ privacy.
After some days of silence, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg declared that Cambridge Analytica’s use of data was a “breach of trust” and apologised for Facebook’s part in the saga, saying it will do more to stop such data misuse from happening in the future. Such actions will include developer audits, investigations into apps with large amounts of data prior to data policy changes, and further limiting developer access to Facebook user data.
At the time of writing, the mix of allegations and denials means only a full investigation can get to the heart of the alleged data abuse and the lack of safeguards Facebook had for its users’ data. Some people are already taking matters into their own hands by deleting their Facebook proﬁles.
The scandal raises the question of whether people would rather pay for a service and remain out of sight from data-hungry ﬁrms, or have free access but surrender a chunk of their personal data.