Cambridge Analytica - Facebook Data Leak Scam


Discussions on personal data security have been doing the rounds amidst technological disruptions and instant tracking mechanisms. In this light, Facebook has recently fallen into the trap of ‘data theft’. Facebook, no doubt, tracks user data and displays ads related to a topic that the user just searched or posted. But it is the alleged illegal data mining of 87 million users, acquired by Cambridge Analytica, that is raising new concerns about the security of users’ personal information that is stored on Facebook.

Timelines and action:

  • Facebook discovered about the data misuse from the journalists back in 2015.  It had granted access to some of the user data in question to an app “thisisyourdigitallife” developed by Global Science Research by authorizing it to do so. It is a personality app that told users that the information they provided would be kept anonymous and would be used for physiological academic research. Dr. Aleksandr Kogan, the creator of the app, insisted that he wasn’t doing anything wrong.
  • When Facebook discovered about the illegal data gathering in 2015, it asked Global Science Research to delete it. But when it received reports that the deletion never happened, they suspended Global Science Research from the platform and launched an investigation.
  • Global Science Research allegedly sold the personal data of about 270,000 people (who accessed the app) to Cambridge Analytica. Apart from user’s data, it also gathered data on those users’ friends which meant that their data had been stolen without their authorization. This fired up the controversy further and Facebook banned Cambridge Analytica.
  • On 26th March 2018, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a non-public but a full investigation into the privacy policies of Facebook, as the company had already faced scrutiny from the AFTC for a similar list of complaints back in 2011.
  • On 4th April 2018 in a press conference, Mark Zuckerberg clarified that the company initially did not have a broader view on how the social network could potentially be misused by people and hence, did not focus much on preventing it. He considered it a huge mistake and apologized for it.
  • Following the clarification made by CEO Zuckerberg on April 4, Facebook shared a draft version of the revised data policy while simultaneously launching limitations to the use of third-party apps by removing the API that allowed the developers to access data on a user’s friends and removed a search feature too. Facebook guaranteed that the users impacted by the misuse of data will be notified but at the same time, it also added that the list of security changes announced is only the beginning with many more modifications rolling over in the coming weeks.
  • Zuckerberg rolled out a policy which outlined that the third-party apps will now only stay connected for three months, preventing one-time use apps from monitoring data in the background. The social network is also launching an audit of all the apps that processed users’ friends’ data prior to 2014 and removing apps that misused data or anyone who doesn’t cooperate with the audit.
  • The network also aims to find and track the misuse of data faster by expanding the existing bug bounty program, whereby it will be rewarding hackers who find loopholes for the company to correct.

Link of Cambridge Analytica data leak with Trump’s election and Brexit:

  • Cambridge Analytica data leak had also been linked to President Donald Trump’s presidential elections and the U.K.’s Brexit vote. The company was supposedly handling social media campaigns for the same.
  • Dr. Aleksandr Kogan reportedly shared the data with Cambridge Analytica, which began building a software solution to help influence choices and votes in elections, according to whistleblower Christopher Wylie.
  • Wiley further claimed that the data sold to Cambridge Analytica was used to develop psychographic profiles of people and then deliver pro-Trump material to them online. However, the firm denies these claims.
  • All parties involved in this scam have different views regarding the number of people impacted by the third-party app tracking. The New York Times estimates that 50 million users were affected. Facebook maintains that 87 million users were affected, while Cambridge Analytica claims that the app gathered information on up to 30 million people.      

Importance of Cambridge Analytica affair to India:

The Cambridge Analytica affair holds great importance to India for a number of reasons.

  • Firstly, using data analytics and social media has already become increasingly significant since the last elections, apart from the traditional methods. The social media campaign led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP since the 2014 general elections have provided a template/example to other politicians and parties on how they need to get their act together in the future elections.
  • Secondly, putting up candidates in seats based on the case calculations of voters in that particular seat has been popular in elections for long. But what is new is that the current firms allow for individual targeting of voters according to the data trails they have left on the internet.

Views regarding data privacy and consumer trust:

  • Consumers’ behavioral data is being used to deliver extremist, harmful or controversial content to consumers not only across the Facebook but also on sites such as YouTube, resulting in “breeding division”.
  • As an industry, data-led marketers and brands need to be transparent to make sure that consumers are aware of how their data is being used. This will help the brands deliver experiences and interactions that are more relevant to them.
  • Vaughan Chandler, executive manager of Red Planet, states that consumers are naturally protective of their data, personal privacy and want to maintain control over it. The data and insights are connected at an anonymized level and only shared with the third-parties as aggregated insights.
  • Raab states that the latest data breach can teach the wider marketing and media industry a lot on how consumer data is accessed, used and shared. It should raise their awareness of obligations to enforce their policies by monitoring what clients actually do with the data they provide.
  • Liz Miller, senior VP (marketing) of CMO Council, states that the industry must be hyper-vigilant in developing authenticity with customers in partnership with the platforms being leveraged to connect with them.

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