Innovator, genius, and philanthropist are just a few of the adjectives that most people would associate with the founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. Today, however, those adjectives are not being used to describe Zuckerberg in the headlines. In fact, the media, online bloggers, and Youtubers have portrayed Mr. Zuckerberg in a very negative light since the story of the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke out. What is this supposed Facebook scandal you ask? Let us find out.
About a month or so ago, major news publications, TIME, WSJ, Washington Post, etc., published stories that asserted Facebook users’ data had been taken by a research company known as Cambridge Analytica. Once the story broke, the public had a massive reaction to the news: a negative one if you can imagine. Today, the situation is continuing to unfold, and, actually, on April ninth specific Facebook users will find out if their data was, in fact, taken by Cambridge Analytica. That being said, the following is what is known of the current situation.
The story is as follows: in 2014, a UK based academic, Aleksandr Kogan planned on using Facebook data to create an app. In order to do so, Kogan devised a one-hundred question personality test for Facebook users to respond to. Simple questions like, “Do you handle tasks smoothly?” were present on the survey. Kogan, eventually, planned to create a model from the data that he had obtained from the users that interacted with the survey. However, just before he began this endeavor, he partnered with Cambridge Analytica, a research firm based in the UK.
In order to take the quiz, people had to log into their Facebook accounts. Therefore, users gave Kogan access to their Facebook profiles: birthdates, family members, and, most importantly, liked posts were all bits of information that became available to Kogan (this is not illegal by the way). Kogan was mainly interested in the data he could obtain from users’ liked posts. In the end, about 200,000 Facebook users ended up completing Kogan’s survey successfully. After this, Kogan developed a psychometric profile for each user based off of their previously liked posts. Once he had completed the profiles for each individual who answered the survey, he synceed the profiles to public voting records and sent the results to Cambridge Analytica.
After Kogan sent the profiles he had created to the research firm, events took a malicious turn; upon receiving the data, Cambridge Analytica discovered that they could access the profiles of the friends of the Facebook users who had actually taken the survey. Thus, Cambridge Analytica began to store data on these other Facebook users who were completely unaware. From the original 200,000 or so Facebook users who had taken the survey, Cambridge Analytica was able to harness the data of over eighty-seven million users: ¼ of the Facebook users in the United States. The research firm gained access to these users’ contacts, location information, posts, and other vital information: almost anything linked to their Facebook account was recorded by Cambridge Analytica.
In addition to hijacking millions of accounts that were not associated with the project whatsoever, Cambridge Analytica began to use the data to appeal to the differing sides of the political spectrum. Often, the company would post certain political articles on Facebook knowing the articles would receive the attention of many users due to the psychometric profiles created by Kogan.
For almost three years straight, Cambridge Analytica has been compounding the data of innocuous Facebook users and using it to their advantage. Having no knowledge of the situation until present time, Mark Zuckerberg failed as CEO in this instance. He did not keep his users information private, and, clearly, Zuckerberg was not thinking about security on the website.