Sarah Grace Goolden
Personality quizzes have become widely popular, specifically on the social media website Facebook. Most of them seem hardly political and are usually based around the user, which makes them fun to share with family and friends. Unbeknownst to those who have indulged in third-party quizzes and apps, Facebook is now being accused of using these seemingly innocent games to harvest, analyze and sell the information from their users’ profiles.
The scandal began when Cambridge Analytica, a private U.K. based company that uses data mining to participate in American politics, was discovered to have been using Facebook for their statistics. The personal information being collected is a lot more important than the kind of breakfast food you eat. Facebook users unknowingly shared their education, interests and work history, as well as their political and religious affiliations.
There was no consent for these people to be inserted into a bureaucratic game. After that, they were then shown ads based on that illegally accessed information. Facebook allowed a violation of privacy and in turn a manipulation of political ideas and this is not something that should be taken lightly. Even though the information stolen wasn’t credit card numbers or social security information, it was still not authorized for the purpose in which it was used.
Specifically, in 2015, Facebook gave University of Cambridge psychology professor Aleksandr Kogan permission to harvest information from anyone who completed the personality quizzes on the third-party app “thisisyourdigitallife.” Kogan, who claimed to have been using the information for academic purposes, then turned around and sold the results to Cambridge Analytica and Eunoia Technologies. Some are worried that Cambridge Analytica used these illegally traded figures to sway voters in the 2016 election, which is a complete violation of Facebook users’ personal information who just wanted to take a quiz online. Additionally, it should be horrifying to realize that not only are these companies stealing your information but they are using it against you in an attempt to sway the public’s opinion.
In a shocking undercover report conducted by Britain’s Channel 4 news, Cambridge Analytica’s Chief Executive, Alexander Nix, suggested the company used illegal and immoral methods. According to the Channel 4 report, these methods included eliciting Ukranian prostitutes to trick candidates and sway public opinion of the election. With the confidential details at their disposal, Cambridge Analytica is able to damage politicians’ reputations through social media. Acquiring personal information from possible voters is vital to understand how they should go about making these kinds of advertisements. The information that seems irrelevant and not worth the hassle of obtaining is actually extremely important in manipulating voters to give themselves the upper hand.
The data analysis company worked for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016, building his online image. Cambridge Analytica previously worked for Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, as well. The campaign was well-aware of the controversy surrounding the company but chose to hire them anyway. It is clear Cambridge Analytica is not a stranger to playing the game dirty and it seems that the Trump campaign was okay with the means in which they got the job done.
Facebook is now cutting ties with the company but claims that the information was accessed in a legal manner and the only rule violated was the distribution of that information. 270,000 people downloaded the app and offered this data, even though they may not have realized it.
This led to another problem after supposedly Cambridge Analytica had the use of 50 million profiles and it was discovered that the app took information from users’ Facebook friends as well. This reminder of Facebook’s rules and regulations seems to serve as a barrier between themselves and Cambridge Analytica and ensure that they are as far distanced from the company as possible. That doesn’t excuse the fact that Facebook has been aware of Aleksandr Kogan since the event took place.
Even those who did not take the quizzes were being swept up into this so-called “breach.” Facebook announced that they were aware of what took place in 2015, but are just now blocking Cambridge Analytica from advertising on their site, leaving users to wonder why this event was not managed over two years earlier. Facebook may not have been actually selling their information but they are an accessory to the crime by having relaxed regulations and not addressing the situation at the very beginning.
It may seem odd that general personal information is so valuable that Facebook was willing to overlook the legal discrepancies of a company, but Cambridge Analytica is using these results to reach voters with targeted messages. This gets suspicious when reminded that they teamed up with Facebook to help Trump’s campaign with voter outreach only a year later. Stolen Facebook information was used for more than just data analysis; it was a platform for possible voter manipulation.
Facebook officials, whether or not they initially were aware of the magnitude of the situation, took part in covering up this abuse of privacy.
Many news sources are calling this a “privacy breach,” but the semantics of the situations are up for debate. The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal does not have the characteristics of a typical breach, which is categorized by undoing the protection a website has in place. Facebook was not hacked but instead was irresponsible with the information they allowed to be collected.