This is not turning out to be a good year for Facebook.
First the social media platform decided to dictate to users whose status updates they can see, and when – and lost a huge amount of hits.
Now it has been revealed that the organisation allowed a data analytics firm to “harvest” data from millions of Facebook profiles, which were then used to build a campaign to influence voters’ choices.
Cambridge Analytica worked with Donald Trump’s election team and the Leave campaign in the EU referendum.
The company used information provided by psychologist Aleksandr Kogan, who paid members of the public to carry out a survey on a dedicated app – which then recorded not only their responses but every piece of information on them held by Facebook – and every piece of information about their Facebook friends as well.
"Facebook are yet to acknowledge that this involved around 50 million users."
Cambridge Analytica, a firm linked to Trump's win, has been suspended from the Facebook platform following the revelations of this whistleblower – who spoke to @Channel4News. pic.twitter.com/yB2KZ8jEd8
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) March 17, 2018
All of this was allowed by Facebook, according to the companies rules.
It was only when Dr Kogan passed the information on to Cambridge Analytica that he broke the rules – passing it on to a third party is forbidden by FB.
It turns out that Facebook discovered the breach in 2015 and demanded that all the data that had been harvested should be destroyed.
Facebook revealed two days ago, it had discovered that not all the data had been deleted. In fact, from the press release, it seems the organisation has no idea whether any of the information was trashed.
According to Christopher Wylie of Cambridge Analytica, information on 50 million users was then used to build campaigns to influence the way people voted in – apparently – the US Presidential election at the end of 2016 and the EU referendum in June that year.
This has huge implications for internet privacy – and for democracy.
The information was harvested from the vast majority of Facebook users without their knowledge – but Facebook reckons this was entirely permissible because of the way they had arranged their privacy settings. Do you bother overmuch about your privacy settings? If not, perhaps you should start.
And the fact that it was used to affect the way people voted in the polls that lumbered the United States with Donald Trump and the United Kingdom with Brexit shows that what Cambridge Analytica did has the potential to be hugely harmful to large numbers of people.
Stable door well and truly closed.
Shame the horse bolted two years ago resulting in Brexit and Trump in the White House. https://t.co/RYanAI1gIF
— Another Angry Voice (@Angry_Voice) March 17, 2018
Facebook is desperately protesting that it has improved its systems to preven any future breach – of its policies.
But it seems that your information is in just as much danger as before. Remember, Facebook itself employs users’ information to make a profit for itself.
What are you going to do about it?
Facebook's defense that Cambridge Analytica harvesting of FB user data from millions is not technically a "breach" is a more profound & damning statement of what's wrong with Facebook's business model than a "breach".
— zeynep tufekci (@zeynep) March 17, 2018
The data analytics firm that worked with Donald Trump’s election team and the winning Brexit campaign harvested millions of Facebook profiles of US voters, in one of the tech giant’s biggest ever data breaches, and used them to build a powerful software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box.
A whistleblower has revealed to the Observer how Cambridge Analytica – a company owned by the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, and headed at the time by Trump’s key adviser Steve Bannon – used personal information taken without authorisation in early 2014 to build a system that could profile individual US voters, in order to target them with personalised political advertisements.
Christopher Wylie, who worked with a Cambridge University academic to obtain the data, told the Observer: “We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on.”
Documents seen by the Observer, and confirmed by a Facebook statement, show that by late 2015 the company had found out that information had been harvested on an unprecedented scale. However, at the time it failed to alert users and took only limited steps to recover and secure the private information of more than 50 million individuals.
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