If you’ve been seeing articles and posts all over the Internet, urging you to delete your Facebook account, it’s likely linked to the recently surfaced Cambridge Analytica Scandal. This scandal can prove to be a major problem for the multibillion dollar conglomerate, resulting in stock prices dropping 12% of its value and a loss of many user accounts. But why? What is this complicated case all about? Let’s break it down.
Do you remember, back in the day (pre-Buzzfeed quiz era), when Facebook quiz apps were huge? In June 2014, a researcher named Aleksandr Kogan created one of these seemingly harmless personality-quiz apps for Facebook. Kogan worked at the Psychometrics Centre at Cambridge University, where a very similar personality-quiz app was created. After 270,000 people installed this app on their Facebook account, they gave up data about themselves, their friend networks, and ‘likes’. The consent requested for this data claimed that it was for “academic purposes”, but instead of immediately deleting this information, the app saved it into a private database. This data was later sold by Kogan, to the voter profiling company, Cambridge Analytica. They now had private information from more than 50 million Facebook users without their permission and used it to make 30 million “psychographic” profiles about voters.
Cambridge Analytica is funded by right-wing billionaire Robert Mercer, and has significant ties to some of President Trump’s supporters and advisers, making this breach of data, a major scam, especially since Facebook was seemingly unaware that the user’s information had been sold to a third party.
Facebook has always used your ‘likes’ and other data to create and show ads targeted specifically towards you. However, the problem here is simple: the context. People are aware that their information is used to influence them into purchasing things, however, they weren’t aware that this psychographic data collection was used for political gain. Cambridge Analytica used this data against the knowledge of its owners by making targeted online ad buys for the Brexit Campaign, the 2016 presidential campaign of Ted Cruz, and the 2016 campaign for Trump. The implications behind this are huge and it’s now scary to think about all of the other potential developers that have created their own private databases and what they’ve done with this private user data.
Whether or not Facebook was aware that Kogan’s research had ulterior motives, the blame can still easily fall on them. Although someone else broke the rules, it should have been up to Facebook to ensure that they remained intact. It’s quite difficult to control psychographic advertising. Targeting voters on social media is something that will constantly keep occurring despite the rules and regulations that social media conglomerates might put into place, which is exactly why the users need to start identifying it on their own. We need to be thoroughly more protective of our own information and take a second to think about whether or not we really want to share our entire Facebook profile to take a quiz on what type of breakfast food we are.