Earlier this week, news erupted that Facebook’s controversial role in the 2016 US presidential election was even more complicated and involved than previously realised. The New York Times and The Guardian released information about the degree to which UK based firm, Cambridge Analytica, a company that specialises in data mining and analytics, exploited user data from up to 50 million Facebook users.
The firm ran data operations for the Trump campaign and are widely recognised as helping Trump to more successfully target voters via Facebook than the Hilary Clinton administration. Facebook stated that the main problem in this latest scandal involves the transferring of information improperly obtained via a supposed research app described as a personality test.
The data obtained was sold to Cambridge Analytics by a Cambridge University Professor who has links to St Petersburg University in Russia, who made an app that collected the Facebook information of users and all of their Facebook friends. The app’s design also made it possible for one user to provide the Facebook data of over 1000 people. Technically, this is not illegal as users were asked to tick a permission box for the app to be able to access their data, and Facebook’s rules allowed the storing of information as long as it was for ‘strictly academic purposes.’ The issue, however, is that instead of using the collected data for strictly academic purposes, the information was sold to Cambridge Analytica.
An ex-employee of the data mining company stated earlier this week that the company’s goal was to “explore mental vulnerabilities of people, and then map out ways to inject information into different streams or channels of content online so that people started to see things all over the place that may or may not have been true.” Further, the ex-employee stressed that the company was “founded” on the misappropriated data taken from Facebook users, and that it actively spread information for political ends.
The CEO of Cambridge Analytics has reportedly been suspended and will appear before the UK intelligence committee concerning a possible false testimony he gave earlier this year about his company’s actions.
The latest string of events are just another blow for Mark Zuckerberg, and a step backward from his efforts to ‘fix Facebook’ after the controversies surrounding fake news and propaganda campaigns.
As a result of the breach, Zuckerberg has made promises to make changes to the platform. Firstly by investigating all apps that have accessed large amounts of user information and also by promising to ban any app creators who do not agree to a full audit and keeping users informed of any identified violations.
You can read more about the on-going Facebook saga here.