Everything you need to know about Facebook’s data scandal
Friday, March 23, 2018
Think just for a moment about all the data Facebook has collected about you since you signed up for the platform years ago.
They know all the basics (age, gender, political/religious affiliations). But they also know what articles you read, what posts you like, the places you go, how much time you spend on the app a day, who your friends and so much more.
Well, it recently came to light that more than 50 million Facebook users had their data harvested by Cambridge Analytica in 2014, a political firm that was hired by President Donald Trump's campaign. To break that down, that correlated to data on 33 percent of active Facebook users in North America and nearly 25 percent of U.S. voters.
Roughly 270,000 Facebook users downloaded an app to take a personality quiz by researchers (specifically Aleksandr Kogan from Cambridge University) and consented to sharing their data, which in turn scraped information from all their Facebook friends' profiles without their consent. Kogan then provided 50 million raw Facebook profiles to Cambridge Analytica for data harvesting. Of that data, an estimated 30 million had enough information to build detailed profiles about those individuals.
With that data, Cambridge Analytica crafted personality profiles that they would use to create psychographic and psychological messages tailored to predict and change how they would vote.
Putting it bluntly, Christopher Wylie, a Cambridge Analytic whistleblower, told the Observer: "We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people's profiles. 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."
Reports detailing how Cambridge Analytica used Facebook data began surfacing in December of 2015. In 2015, Facebook did remove the app that collected the initial data, and Facebook required (but did not confirm) that the collected data was deleted. It's reported that Cambridge Analytica may still have the data.
Additionally, Facebook did not alert any of the affected individuals. If this was a data breach, that would break the law in several states. That's likely why much of what Facebook has said about this scandal refutes that assertion.
"The claim that this is a data breach is completely false," Facebook Vice President and Deputy General Counsel Paul Grewal wrote in a statement on March 17. "Aleksandr Kogan requested and gained access to information from users who chose to sign up to his app, and everyone involved gave their consent."
For days, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder and CEO, stayed mute. Just recently, on March 21, he finally spoke out.
"We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can't then we don't deserve to serve you," Zuckerburg wrote, followed by an explanation of implemented changes.
"But it was also a breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it. We need to fix that."
Missing from his statement was an apology or reason why more action was not taken to ensure the data was deleted (or to alert affected users). As a result, many are calling for the resignation of Zuckerberg. The hashtag #DeleteFacebook also had nearly 40,000 mentions as of March 21, according to Digimind.
For many, it's Facebook's poor protection of user data and lack of transparency coupled with the role Facebook's fake news played in the 2016 election propeling the #DeleteFacebook movement.
Since the scandal, Facebook's stock has fallen nearly 11 percent as of March 22. Large advertisers, like Mozilla, have suspended all advertising on Facebook and stated: "This news caused us to take a closer look at Facebook's current default privacy settings given that we support the platform with our advertising dollars."
The aftermath of this scandal is still dissipating and may affect Facebook's senior leadership and overall company goals.
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