Facebook is in the centre of yet another data-breach scandalEVER felt paranoid you’re being “watched” on social media? The latest scandal around Facebook won’t make you feel any better.
EVER paranoid that you’re being “watched” on social media? The latest drama surrounding Facebook probably won’t help lessen those feelings.
The story was broken by The Guardian over the weekend, who reported the data may have been used to influence the outcome of the United States election in 2016.
WHAT IS CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA?
Cambridge Analytica is a British data analysis firm that offers services to businesses and groups wanting to “change audience behaviour”.
The firm, which is owned by hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, says it can analyse consumer data — including social media and its own polling — in order to target people with marketing material.
It worked for both President Donald Trump’s election campaign, and the campaign of Republican Senator Ted Cruz.
OK, SO WHAT’S THE SCANDAL?
Over the weekend, The Guardian revealed that the personal data of 50 million Facebook profiles was illegally harvested by Cambridge Analytica.
It all started in 2015, when a Cambridge psychology professor named Aleksandr Kogan created an app called “thisisyourdigitallife”.
The app was a personality quiz, described by Dr Kogan as “a research app used by psychologists”.
His company Global Science Research had a deal to share this information with Cambridge Analytica.
Around 270,000 Facebook users signed up, and were paid to take personality tests which would be stored by the company.
But here’s where things get dicey: the app also collected the information of the users’ Facebook friends, who — unless they had already signed up to the app — did not consent to having their personal information stored.
This was revealed by Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower and analytics expert who worked with Cambridge Analytica.
“We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles,” he told The Guardian. “And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on.”
The app relied on its users consenting on behalf of all their friends — or at least, those whose privacy settings were to set to allow sharing with a friend’s app — to receive “more limited information”.
The information was reportedly used to map out the behaviour of voters in the lead-up to the 2016 election, as well as the Brexit campaign earlier that year.
The reports suggest over 50 million people had their data harvested without their permission.
HOW DID THE FIRM RESPOND?
Cambridge Analytica denied any wrongdoing, claiming it fully complied with Facebook’s term of service.
The firm claimed allegations that it obtained and used Facebook data were false, and said none of it was used in the 2016 presidential election.
The Trump campaign has also denied any wrongdoing, saying it never used Cambridge Analytica’s data. “The campaign used the RNC for its voter data and not Cambridge Analytica,” it said in a statement.
The app was removed by Facebook in 2015, and the firm reportedly assured the social media network that it had deleted all the data.
But according to the New York Times, copies of the data are still available online.
WHY IS FACEBOOK COPPING CRITICISM?
Facebook has come under pressure to be more transparent about how its users’ data is or potentially can be used by third-party companies.
Critics say the scandal highlights its ongoing problem to grasp how its platform is handled by others.
The social media giant had known since 2015 that the information had been harvested but did nothing to protect its users, according to reports.
The network attempted to suggest it was deceived, and that those involved shouldn’t have lied about deleting the data.
In a series of now-deleted tweets, Facebook’s chief security officer Alex Stamos said Dr Kogan “lied to those users and he lied to Facebook about what he was using the data for”.
Here are @alexstamos now deleted tweets on the app Cambridge Analytica used to harvest millions of Facebook users' data. pic.twitter.com/jPwRHUyW1w— april glaser (@aprilaser) March 17, 2018
Politicians and critics from both the US and Britain slammed the network following the reports.
British legislator Damian Collins accused Facebook of misleading officials by downplaying the risk of users’ data being shared without their consent.
He said Facebook has “consistently understated” the risk of data leaks and gave misleading answers to the committee.
“Someone has to take responsibility for this,” he told the Associated Press. “It’s time for Mark Zuckerberg to stop hiding behind his Facebook page.”
US Senator Jeff Flake told CNN: “This is a big deal, when you have that amount of data. And the privacy violations there are significant. So, the question is, who knew it? When did they know it? How long did this go on? And what happens to that data now?”
At the same time, the social media network faces ongoing criticism over the spread of Russian propaganda, with an investigation still underway to determine whether “fake news” and Russian hacking influenced the 2016 election outcome.