The Cambridge Analytica scandal and Facebook have been in the limelight over data misuse.
Cambridge Analytica is a political consulting firm which uses data mining, analysis and brokerage to come up with strategic decisions. Cambridge Analytica claims that it “uses data to change audience behaviour”. However, recently 87 million Facebook profiles were leaked through them.
A brief timeline of events leading up to the scandal
Facebook launched a platform that allowed external app developers to access user data.
The US Federal Trade Commission and Facebook signed a consent decree. In which the company promises it won’t share user data without authorization.
Cambridge Analytica was founded.
Cambridge Analytica obtained data on Facebook users from Cambridge University researcher, Aleksandr Kogan. This is in violation of Facebook’s terms. He admitted to gathering the personal details of 30 million Facebook users through a personality app he developed himself. He then passed the data to Cambridge Analytica who, he accounts, assured him this was legal. Cambridge Analytica paid Kogan to set up a personality quiz. For this he recruited 270,000 people, who were assured that their data will be collected for academic purposes. However, the app also accessed the information of their friends—who gave no such permission for their information to be shared.
This brought up the total number of user profiles Cambridge Analytica had in its reservoir to nearly 87 million. In 2018, Kogan claimed he did not know what specifically Cambridge Analytica wanted to use the data for, other than political consulting work.
Bloomberg reported that pro-Brexit campaign group Leave.Eu, headed by Nigel Farage, hired Cambridge Analytica.
A report in The Guardian showed that Republican presidential nominee, Ted Cruz, also hired Cambridge Analytica.
After the Cruz campaign, Cambridge Analytica was hired for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Both Trump and the “Leave” faction won their respective votes.
Blockbuster reports from The New York Times and the Observer showed that the scale of data harvesting by Kogan and Cambridge Analytica was bigger than previously imagined. The executives were also caught bragging about employing shady and illegal practices in their work with multiple accounts from different countries. This caused Cambridge Analytica to get into a lot of trouble.
Lawmakers demanded Facebook explain itself. While regulators and other officials launched investigations into its actions.
The Facebook Testimony
On April 10, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified for more than five hours in a joint hearing of two Senate Committees. Zuckerberg admitted that Facebook has not done enough to prevent harmful use of its own tools regarding issues surrounding fake news, election interference, hate speech, and privacy concerns. He said, “It was my mistake, and I’m sorry”. Zuckerberg was also asked why Cambridge Analytica was not banned in 2015 after FB first learned that it used FB data inappropriately. To this, Zuckerberg said, they should have been banned then. Zuckerberg repeatedly apologized for past mistakes during the hearing.
On April 11, on the second day of the hearing, Zuckerberg again stressed the fact that FB does not sell user data. Mark Zuckerberg claimed that he is also amongst the people whose data was stolen.
It is still unclear how Facebook would instill trust in users with its business model. A model based on unrestrained hoovering of as much user data as possible, and crafting innovative ways for advertisers to use that information for their own commercial goals. Technically this is an arrangement that FB users can opt out of. But it is hardly informed consent or a real option to avoid.
*Feature Image Source: The Economist*