Facebook Data Breach Scandal

Facebook encountered the scandal of the century that damaged its reputation following the continued fallout of massive data scandal. The scandal involved a London-based election consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica, that was allegedly working for trump at that time. Being one of the giants in the social media industry, the scandal put Facebook at the center of a dispute of alleged harvesting and use of personal data. The allegations have heightened concerns over whether such data was being used to influence the US elections.

The Scandal…

Cambridge Analytica gained access to millions of data from 50million Facebook users inappropriately. The data was then allegedly used to help their client Donald trump elected. The breach came to light thanks to Cambridge Analytica whistleblower. It is said the company exploited Facebook so as to harvest millions of people’s profiles.

Facebook’s Open Graph

Facebook announced the launch of the platform Open Graph to third-party apps. This platform allowed external developers to reach out to them an access large chunks of data and also access their Facebook friend’s personal data. This App basically had access to user name, gender, birthday, location, education, relationship, political preference, religion and online chat status. Facebook changed its policies in 2014 and it did not allow third party to access users friends data without permission.

Who was affected by the data leak?

Facebook in its announcement said that the data of over 87 million users might have been shared with the political firm and they would get information from their news feed. Most of the users who were affected were in US though there were others from countries like UK, Indonesia and Philippines. There are about 40 million Facebook users in Britain which means that there are roughly 1 in 40 chance of having your data hoovered without knowledge. Facebook’s Chief technology expert revealed the number of users that were shared and the steps they were taking to restrict personal data that is made available to third-party app developers.

How was the data obtained?

A professor in Cambridge built an App called thisisyourdigitallife in 2015. It was an App that was asking users to provide information about themselves. Through the company Global Science the professor shared information about the App with Cambridge Analytica. About 270, 000 signed up and took part in the personality taste. The App has also harvested data of all the Facebook friends that were connected to the users without their prior permission. This is complete violation of people’s privacy and violated Facebooks data policy.

What data was obtained?

Cambridge Analytica obtained personal information about users where they lived and the kind of pages that they liked. This helped in the building of psychological profiles that analyzed psychological characteristics and personality traits. This kind of information was later deployed in political campaigns.

Was it legal?

Facebook has contested whether the information that they provided was really taken without consent. According to Facebook, the users willingly provided the information and no systems were infiltrated and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen.

How is Facebook Implicated

Facebook claimed that it removed the quiz app of Cambridge Analytica and requested its owners to confirm that they had deleted all the harvested data. The owners of Analytica however claim that Facebook only asked them to delete the files and did nothing to check whether the files were deleted. All they were asked to do was tick a box in a form and post it back. The files were still available online when the scandal first broke in 2018.

How is the trump campaign implicated?

Cambridge Analytica was created when Steve Bannon approached conservative mega-donors Rebekah and Robert Mercer to fund their political consulting firm. He then became the Vice president of Cambridge Analytica and during the 2016 election he reached out to Trump campaign so as to introduce the two sides. He was made a senior advisor to the Trump campaign before being fired on August 2017.

Is Russia involved?

There are allegations of Russia involvement in the scandal. According to reports, Cambridge Analytica made a pitch to Russian oil and gas company in 2014 which has remained sanctioned by the US. The company was very interested in understanding the link that exists between data, behavioral microtargeting and political campaigns. Kogan who is the vice president of Cambridge Analytica has also been linked with St. Petersburg University and is alleged to have received grant from the Russian government while developing the application.

Why is it a Facebook Scandal more than a Cambridge one

According to the Founder and CEO of Facebook, they have worked had to identify the source of the problem and ensure that such a thing never happens again. There are some measures which were already in place that prevent such an activity and they have also put in place additional measures to mitigate the problem. Former employees of Facebook however have a different story to tell. Most of them claim that there is tension between the security team and the legal policy team in regards to how they prioritize user protection when it comes to decision making. The people who are employed to protect the privacy of the user are always in a losing battle with those that are mandated to make money for the company.

There is a decent chance that Cambridge Analytica played a role in Trump’s election. However, this highlights a serious debate as to how much users can trust Facebook with their data. The act of allowing third-party developer to engineer an application for the sole purpose of gathering data and the developer was able to exploit a loophole to gather information not only not only in people who used the App but also their friends. Of course this contributes to the growing fear of lack of privacy an online activity especially in regards to social media use. With all of the personal information and day to day documentation and interaction that occurs with social media apps it doesn’t seem implausible that an entity could gain knowledge of any user’s dating life, fuck buddy hook up, casual relationships, personal preferences, political inclinations or many other pieces of personal information that could be exploited.

In summary, Facebook has been expecting this and they had set aside money to cater for such financial strain. What is not known is whether there will be additional measures put in place such as increased oversight privacy. However new information continues to come out.