Facebook-Cambridge Analytica Data Scandal
An elaborate plan, which began from the works on a simple quiz app and culminated with gaining access to personally identifiable information of over 87 million Facebook users finally came under public scrutiny for its unethical and inappropriate nature. Cambridge Analytica, a subsidiary of SCL Group, was a British political consulting company which shut doors on 1st May 2018 post the massive Facebook data scandal. The harvested data was allegedly used to influence voter opinion on behalf of politicians who hired them.
Unfolding of Events
An app named ‘thisisyourdigitallife’ was developed by Aleksandr Kogan, a data scientist who worked at Cambridge University. The app was primarily a quiz which exploited a loophole in Facebook’s API by collecting data from the Facebook friends of the quiz taker as well.
When people log in using Facebook to access third-party apps, they grant the developer a range of information from their Facebook profile — like their name, location, email and friend list. The app further made use of the friend list of the users to analyse behaviour pattern of users and their friends; essentially gaining access to a more extensive data pool than those who signed up initially using the app.
Cambridge Analytica sold this data despite Facebook prohibitions. The collected information was then used to build psychographics to run targeted advertisements which could ensure considerable persuasion of voters during political events. A statement from Cambridge Analytica denied its usage during the 2016 Presidential elections, but it was never verified. The interesting thing to note is that it took people four years to take their privacy and data seriously. Most of what unfolded in present date was already published by The Guardian in 2015, but the news failed to make significant headlines.
Cambridge Analytica was allegedly backed by conservative donors who worked closely with the Trump campaign. Steve Bannon, the Vice President of CA, became a senior advisor to Trump before being eventually fired. Although CA doesn’t have a stellar reputation in the circles of political consultancy and it might not have had a massive role in electing Trump, but the fact that a third party app led to such a major security breach with sensitive information ending up in wrong hands is of primary concern.
Outcome and Reactions
Massive public outrage with the hashtag #DeleteFacebook trending on Twitter for the first time in 4 years drew the attention of the general public to take their privacy seriously. SpaceX founder Elon Musk publicly criticised the actions of Facebook and deleted the pages for both SpaceX and Tesla. Mark Zuckerberg appeared before the Senate on 10th April 2018 accepting responsibility for the blunders which were committed in the past years and enforced the EU directives for Data Protection across all regions of operation. Amazon suspended Cambridge Analytica from using their Amazon Web Services. All of this led to the SCL Group filing insolvency proceedings as Cambridge Analytica closed operations. Emerdata has sprung up in its place with a similar team and leadership.
Despite Zuckerberg’s apology spree which started back in March what remains mostly unknown is whether there are enough mechanisms in place to avoid such an illicit grab of data in future. Looking from a psychological perspective, Mark got everything right; he owned up to his mistake entirely despite reservations from his counterparts at Facebook; he claimed to take stringent actions to counter such breaches and published a heartfelt letter across many newspapers. The majority of Facebook users would still not give it much thought, a plethora of free services in return for personal data has always been a fair bargain to them. The millennials, however, are much more aware and take their privacy seriously. Will this incident trigger a chain reaction leading to many backing out from using their services or will people forget it and simply move ahead? Time will tell how much of a change this will bring in the social media community. However, these sequence of events have yet again reinforced the importance of data in this modern era; it is truly the oil of the 21st century
Written By –Abhishek Mishra
Edited By –Nethraa Kanan