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Stay Woke: Lets Talk About The Cambridge Analytica Facebook Scandal

This week, the 'hot scoop' in the national media has been reports on the Cambridge Analytica whistle-blower and the Facebook data scandal that has caused Mark Zuckerburg to lose billions of dollars, as Facebook shares dropped by over 7%, or approximately $50 billion.

This is all big headline news, but I realised, I didn't really know what any of this means, and I certainly don't know if any of this affects me personally. I did some digging to try and wrap my head around this story and it is disturbing!! So let me try and unravel this spaghetti bowl of deception.

The Problem

  • In April 2015, an App was published on Facebook, a 'personality test' called thisisyourdigitallife that users were paid to complete for research for psychologists. 
  • This app not only collected Facebook information on the paid user of the app, but also collected data from all of that users friends' Facebook pages. None of the users friends gave permission, or knew that their Facebook profile data was being collected.
  • It is estimated approximately 270,000 people were paid to participate in this 'personality test', which means over 50 million Facebook profiles were exploited and accessed for this data collection.
  • This data was shared with a company called Cambridge Analytica, who used it to train complex systems that have the capabilities to filter information and content to people online.
  • Cambridge Analytica are a self-described "political data analytics firm"
  • In 2015, Facebook deemed the sharing of this data from the app creator to Cambridge Analytica to be in violation of their policies, Facebook deleted the app and requested all data be deleted by all parties who had access to it.

This is where is gets interesting!

  • Facebook did not report this breach of policy and 'data leak' to any governing authorities. They also didn't attempt to investigate and confirm that the collected data had in fact been deleted.

Blurred Lines

It is difficult defining the extent of blame Facebook deserve for their part in this scandal. The data was obtained "legally" by the app creator under an academic license. Users of the app consented whether knowingly or not to provide this information. When Facebook became aware of the data being used for commercial purposes, it sanctioned the people involved. 

However, Facebook’s actions are really very contradictory to their statement on Cambridge Analytica. Our government has now called on Mark Zuckerberg to provide an explanation and evidence relating to this data.

Now I am sure you have all shared my experience of having a conversation about needing a spa day or buying a new bank holiday outfit, only to go onto Facebook and see an ASOS or Groupon Ad lurking in the corner. We see this and usually say to ourselves "this is creepy, are they listening to the microphone?" and then before we know it we are lost in the scroll of our timelines forgetting the uneasiness we felt a moment before.

Keep this scenario in mind and let me explain how this collected data was used.