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Facebook-Cambridge Analytica: Everything you need to know about the data scandal

Millions of users have been affected by Facebook user data breach. Here's everything you need to know about the data scandal.

  • Published: March 21, 2018 4:40 PM IST

Facebook, the world’s biggest social network is at a center of a scandal that involves voter data, Brexit and 2016 US presidential election. The scandal involves the use of personal user data without consent by analytics firm Cambridge Analytica. The controversy came into light when two newspapers in the United States and Britain reported that the firm harvested personal data of Facebook users starting from 2014. A lot of us use Facebook on a daily basis, and after this incident you may have a lot of questions on how and when this started, what it means, and more.

Cambridge Analytica is best known for assisting U.S. President Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign. The firm is now facing questions from U.S state authorities, government search of its London office and a forensic audit demanded by Facebook. Here’s everything you need to know about Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

What is Cambridge Analytica?

As mentioned above, Cambridge Analytica is a UK-based data analytics firm that helps political campaigns reach their potential voters online. It combines data from several sources, including polling and online information to build ‘voter profiles.’ The firm then uses computer programs to predict voter behavior which can be influenced by specialized advertisements aimed towards the voters.

According to CNET, the firm works with a larger user data. It has 5,000 data points with more than 230 million American voters, which, more or less is a big majority considering that there are an estimated 250 million voters in the US.

The company acquired data of these millions of Facebook users in the beginning of 2014, which reportedly violated Facebook’s policies. The firm then tapped user information to build their psychographic profiles and use them for targeted political ads both during 2016 US election and during UK’s Brexit referendum campaign.

The heart of the matter

In a statement, Facebook said that the firm received user data from Aleksandr Kogan, a lecturer at the University of Cambridge. Kogan had reportedly created an app called “thisisyourdigitallife” that offered personality predictions to users, while calling itself as a research tool for psychologists.

To use the app, users were required to log in using their Facebook account, and share details such as their profile, location, and most importantly, data of their friends as well. According to Facebook, Kogan sent the acquired user data to the firm without user permission, which goes against the rules of the social network.

The Trump connection

During the 2016 election, Trump campaign had hired Cambridge Analytica to run their data operations. Steve Bannon, who was VP of Cambridge Analytica’s board, eventually became Trump’s chief strategist. The firm help to identify voters with target ads, and also offered advice on beat ways to approach, and where to make campaign stops. Cambridge Analytica also helped with strategic communication, like what to say in speeches.

So why did Facebook ban the firm?

When Facebook came to know about it, the social media company asked Cambridge Analytica to delete the data. In response, the firm said it wasn’t aware that Kogan violated Facebook’s terms, and after it found out in 2015, it deleted the data. However, two newspapers recently reported that Cambridge Analytica did not delete the data.

So, while the investigation is completed, Facebook is suspending Cambridge Analytica, its parent company SCL and Kogan from the platform for violating the rules of the social media site.

Yes, we share our life on Facebook, and companies like Cambridge Analytica access this to their client’s advantage. It’s not just our data, but details about our family and friends is also at a risk. While deleting Facebook profile is not a viable solution, you can follow these tips to keep your private data safe.

  • Published Date: March 21, 2018 4:40 PM IST