Facebook has been all over the news this week due to reports that Cambridge Analytica, the Trump campaign’s data firm, was involved in a data collection scheme. This allowed Cambridge Analytica access to the private information of over 50 million Facebook users. We discuss what you need to know about this recent scandal, and what it means for Facebook users.
WHAT IS CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA?
Cambridge Analytica is a data firm that offers companies and political parties services to “change audience behavior”. The company was created when Steve Bannon approached conservative hedgefund billionaire Robert Mercer to fund a political consulting firm. The firm harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission, in order to target them with personalized political advertisements.
MyPersonality was the application Cambridge Analytica used to harvest the information. It was a popular Facebook personality quiz that could be used to build psychological profiles of the people who took the quiz, and, due to a loophole in Facebook API, allowed it to collect data from the Facebook “friends” of the quiz takers as well.
The company’s stock price has taken a beating since the revelation, dropping 6.8% on Monday and another 2.5% on Tuesday. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a statement on Wednesday, saying,
“We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you. I’ve been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn’t happen again. The good news is that the most important actions to prevent this from happening again today we have already taken years ago. But we also made mistakes, there’s more to do, and we need to step up and do it.”
According to Zuckerberg, Facebook plans to investigate and audit all apps that had access to large amounts of information. If an audit reveals any misuse, he said, the developer will be banned, and Facebook will inform any users affected by the app’s collection of identifiable information.
It certainly sparks a larger debate for Facebook’s 2.2 billion active users—how safe is their personal data? And how is it being used? Facebook allowed a third-party to implement an application for the sole purpose of gathering user’s data. Furthermore, Facebook has known about this issue for more than two years, and only now that it has been made public are they acknowledging their mistake. Facebook has publicly touted its ability to accurately profile voters using the information they give to the site.
Critics are calling for tough new regulations, and celebrities are urging users to quit Facebook, with the Twitter hashtag #deleteFacebook. Users have always been aware that Facebook collected their data, but perhaps did not realize the extent and possible ramifications. This invasion of privacy has certainly been an eye-opener for millions of unwitting users across the country.