Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, odds are you’ve heard about the whole Facebook-Cambridge Analytica Scandal where private data from 87 million Facebook users were allegedly used by Cambridge Analytica and politicians to influence voter opinion.
Today I’m going to show you what happened after the whole situation and what you can do to prevent a “repeat performance”.
So, hold on to your seats, folks because here we go!
Let’s start from the very beginning.
The whole story began in 2013 when Aleksandr Kogan, an academic who worked for Cambridge Analytica, developed and built a personality test app called thisisyourdigitallife, separately from the work he does at Cambridge University.
He then collaborated with Cambridge Analytica where they paid hundreds of thousands of Facebook users to take their test while agreeing to have their data collected.
They claimed that this data was collected only for academic use.
However, not only did the app collect the information of the test-takers but it also collected the data from all their Facebook friends.
Through Facebook’s “platform policy”, the app was allowed to collect friends’ data to improve the app user’s experience but barred this data from being sold or used for advertising.
This lead to the data collection of not just hundreds of thousands of Facebook users but tens of millions!
These acts only became known to the public after The Guardian reported in December 2015 that US Senator Ted Cruz was using data from Cambridge Analytica to influence voters for his presidential campaign.
It was later found that the data from Cambridge Analytica helped President Trump be elected to office in 2016 and even influenced the Brexit vote.
The whistleblower was later on identified as Christopher Wylie– a former Cambridge Analytica employee. He revealed that Cambridge Analytica actually collected private data from over 87 million Facebook users!
Fear soon spread among the public that their private data was allegedly being used to attempt to influence voter opinion of the politicians who hired Cambridge Analytica.
This sparked a public outrage against Facebook and Cambridge Analytica which led to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg making public apologies amid public outcry and fallen stock prices.
He was then invited to talks with the US Congress. During which, Zuckerberg apologized and accepted full responsibility for what happened.
He then went on to say that it was only in 2015 that he became aware that Kogan shared the private data Kogan had collected with Cambridge Analytica. He added that Cambridge Analytica was later asked to remove all the data (which later on The Guardian, The New York Times and Channel 4 rediscovered that it was not in fact deleted).
Zuckerberg then said that with the rapid increase of Facebook users there was a need for more security measures to ensure the protection of their data and that Facebook has taken action to improve this protection.
What Has Happened Since Then
You’ve caught up with the whole story, the next question to ask is:
How has this issue affected Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, governments around the world, and the public in general?
Mark Zuckerberg has made an apology on CNN. He called the issue “a mistake” and “a breach of trust” and pledged to make changes and reforms for the better protection of the private data of Facebook users.
A survey in March 2018 reported that only 41% of users trusted Facebook.
In April, Facebook implemented the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation across all areas of operation and not just those in the EU.
Later on, Facebook released their first earnings report since the scandal. It showed that their revenue had fallen since the last quarter, but this was not unusual as it followed the holiday season quote.
Their quarter revenue was still the highest for a first quarter, and the second overall.
Facebook then announced, during its annual developer conference, of its intention to build a “Clear History” tool. This tool will allow users to delete their browsing data from Facebook’s servers which prevents their data from being used to target them with ads.
In April 2018, Aleksandr Kogan apologized for his role in the scandal stating that at the time he didn’t know what he was doing was wrong and that now he believes that the core idea they had that “Everybody knows, nobody cares” was flawed.
In May 2018, The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the UK’s data regulator, refused to let Cambridge Analytica get off scot-free. It served London-based SCL Elections Ltd, the firm’s affiliate company, with a legal notice to hand over all the data it holds on US-based voter Professor David Carroll, a media design professor at Parsons School of Design in New York City.
SCL was given 30 days to comply. Failure to do so is a criminal offence, punishable in the courts by an unlimited fine!
The Indian and Brazilian governments have since demanded that Cambridge Analytica report how anyone used data from the breach in political campaigning.
In April 2018, The Canadian House of Commons made formal investigations on the matter.
Daniel Therrien, the privacy commissioner of Canada, called for stronger regulations to protect Canadians’ data and for the ability of his agency and the election agency’s ability to make and enforce orders.
He went on to say that “The time of self-regulation is over,” and that “Transparency and accountability are necessary, but they are not sufficient.”
Although Canadian Facebook users were not as affected by the scandal as US users, they were still not immune after CBC’s report that said that the data of about 600,000 Canadians was collected by Cambridge Analytica.
In May 2018, The UK Parliament held talks with Zuckerberg but it wasn’t satisfied and stated that the one hour talk only yielded 10 minutes of answers. “He merely repeated what he said in his opening statement.”
Just recently, the government of Papua New Guinea announced that it was shutting down Facebook for one month to better assess the benefits versus risks of Facebook for its citizens, specifically regarding pornography and fake accounts.
Public in general
US citizens from several regional governments have filed lawsuits in their courts for the data breach.
Amazon has said that they suspended Cambridge Analytica from using their Amazon Web Services after learning that Cambridge Analytica was using their service to collect private information.
In the end:
Although the problem stemmed from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica’s actions, perhaps we, as users, should look more closely at an app’s fine print and permissions for our own sake.