If you’ve been on the internet this week you’ve probably heard the news that an estimated 30 to 50 million Facebook users’ data was siphoned and used to market candidates in the 2016 United States election. Here are five facts we know about this data harvesting scandal.
1. Facebook harvested the data of 30-50 million users
Facebook allowed the misuse of up to 50 million of its user’s data to benefit campaigns of conservative candidates, namely Ted Cruz and Donald Trump during the 2016 USA elections. It appears that Trump’s camp was the main beneficiary of this data harvesting.
2. The data was used to influence the US elections
Cambridge Analytica is the company at the centre of this scandal. The company, formed in 2014, made offers to billionaire Republican funder Robert Mercer and then-Trump ally, Steve Bannon. Cambridge Analytica had executed some regional campaigns but when they went national, they needed far more specific access to voters and market specifically to them. Facebook helped them gain access to consenting Facebook users as well as their non-consenting contacts or “friends” on the social media platform. This was done through a university researcher Aleksandr Kogan who created a personality quiz app that gave him access to tens of millions of users’ data on Facebook. Kogan then shared this data with Cambridge Analytica.
3. Sandy Parakilas said covert data harvesting was routine at Facebook
Many users on Facebook have seen ads that are marketed directly to them depending on their posts, interests and other factors. On top of these, when you login into other third party apps using your Facebook profile, these apps would then have access to your information. This is a form of data harvesting where Facebook gives third party apps access to user’s information. Ex-Facebook insider Sandy Parakilas has now come out to say that this was routine at Facebook. He said Facebook executives who are still at the company were made aware of his concerns about data vulnerabilities but failed to do enough.
4. Facebook allegedly didn’t investigate enough of the data breaches
Parakilas also said that there were many data breaches involving other companies who use ghost profiles to gain access to user information. He says Facebook was aware of this but felt that if they investigated and received information that policies or laws were being broken it would be liable but if it did not know it could claim it was just a platform and they would not be liable.
5. Mark Zuckerberg has broken his silence on the data scandal
Founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday 21 March that Facebook has a “responsibility” to protect its users’ data and if it fails, “we don’t deserve to serve you”.