Mark Zuckerberg has got hard times these days. The scandal over the disclosure and misuse of 50 million users’ information to Cambridge Analytica puts Facebook in the biggest distress since its conception. This is also the biggest distress to millions of Facebook users and advertisers – even if they (or you) are not yet aware what happened and what to do now.
On Friday, March 16, Facebook officially suspended a British data analytics company Cambridge Analytica from the site, making it impossible for them to buy any ads or to access any data on Facebook. This was the last pre-emptive action that Zuckerberg’s empire managed to take before The Observer and The New York Times exploded with weekend news of how Cambridge Analytica acquired data on 50 million Facebook users without their consent and used it to influence voters in the Trump versus Clinton election campaign and the Brexit referendum.
The news came from Christopher Wylie, a whistle-blower and a former employee of Cambridge Analytica who spilled the beans straight to the leading media outlets, including a live appearance at CNN:
Cambridge Analytica followed with a statement rejecting these allegations, but it did not stop the scandal. The situation outraged people worldwide, including governments, leading business figures and individual Facebook users. Why you should care?
“WE MADE A MISTAKE”
According to a survey commissioned by Sky News this week, 80 percent respondents said that they do not understand what Facebook does with their data. Yet, as more news of the scandal pop up, as many as 65 percent respondents admit that they now trust Facebook less than ever
Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg says the company has "made mistakes" over its protection of user data and outlined steps to improve its policies
— Sky News Breaking (@SkyNewsBreak) March 21, 2018
On the same day, March 21, Mark Zuckerberg finally broke the silence and issued his long-awaited official statement on the Facebook & Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which he admitted Facebook ‘made a mistake’:
I want to share an update on the Cambridge Analytica situation — including the steps we've already taken and our next…
In the comments below this post, Zuckerberg also informed that he is going to appear in an interview with CNN shortly. This is an unprecedented situation in the history of Facebook, because never before have they been exposed to such a crisis as a company. In this crisis, they are fighting to regain trust (if it is possible at all), which they need to maintain their position as a leading social network and a very profitable advertising platform. The stakes are high: 2.13 billion monthly active users equals a lot of impact and very high budgets of companies using Facebook to advertise their products and services globally.
Importantly, the mistake Zuckerberg admitted in his post is different from what the public expects. Read on to learn why.
WITCH HUNT BEGINS: CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA EX-CEO ALEXANDER NIX PORTRAYED AS THE MAIN CULPRIT
In an undercover footage released by Britain’s Channel 4 News on Tuesday shows, Mark Turnbull, managing director of Cambridge Analytica’s political division bragged that the “Crooked Hillary” campaign against Hillary Clinton was controlled by Cambridge Analytica during the 2016 US presidential election campaign.
“Our data underpinned their (Trump’s) campaign,” Alexander Nix told the reporters. On Wednesday, March 21, Cambridge Analytica then steered away from the words of Nix: “His statements do not stand for the values or the approach of the company,” it said shortly afterwards. But is it possible that only Nix was responsible for everything? In any case, CA claims that the company’s activities were legal. Now, they go a step further and point their finger at the Russian scientist Alexandr Kogan from the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Cambridge. Why him
DATA ANALYST ALEXANDR KOGAN DOES NOT WANT TO BE A SCAPEGOAT
Between 2013 and 2015, the data analyst Alexandr Kogan had given the data of about 30 million US Facebook users to Cambridge Analytica. He had developed a personality test app called “thisisyourdigitallife” for scientific purposes. With the app, Kogan could access all information, such as content that was popular and widely shared (“liked”) by Facebook users, as well as the locations they specified in their profiles. The problem lies in the fact that Kogan’s app could not only retrieve the data of its users, but also the data of their friends. This ultimately resulted in a gigantic amount of data from around 50 million Facebook users in the USA.
By evaluating preferences and other personal information, scientists like Kogan can create fairly accurate psychological profiles of users, which can then be used for promotional purposes, or as in this case, to influence political voters.
Kogan now defends himself saying that he had assumed that nothing illegal would happen to the data as he passed it on. The University of Cambridge is currently investigating its activities and affirming that it has nothing to do with Cambridge Analytica.
SERIOUS ALLEGATIONS AGAINST THE MOTHER COMPANY
There are also allegations against Cambridge Analytica’s parent company – the Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) group. The company employs hackers, programmers and IT professionals who are supposed to be engaged in influencing elections or manipulating political tensions worldwide. The company is said to have been active in countries such as Kenya, Libya, Pakistan and India. Both, SCL and its daughter company Cambridge Analytica, are also said to have worked on behalf of the British government in the Brexit referendum campaigns.
THE DATA PROTECTION OFFICER COMES TOO LATE
In interviews, British data protection officer Elisabeth Denham admitted in recent days that she has been investigation the analysts suspected of data misuse for months. But the truth is that only through a whistle-blower and the immediate media attention did the Cambridge Analytica scandal came to light.
Since Monday, Denham is now seeking a search warrant to dig through the offices of Cambridge Analytica. No court seems to have given permission until Wednesday noon, and the company is currently denying any cooperation. If there were any complaints about the allegations against Cambridge Analytica, the company would have had plenty of time to clean their servers and make any evidence of illegal activities disappear anyway.
BRITISH PARLIAMENT WANT TO SPEAK WITH ZUCKERBERG
The UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee announced its intention to speak with the Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. They expect him to speak up until the middle of next week and to make an appointment. Whether he will appear or be obliged to testify in the British Parliament remains an open question. Presumably, instead of the CEO, Facebook will send its top managers to London.
Until then, however, the committee listens to ex-Facebook employee Sandy Parakilas. He was responsible for protecting data from third parties, especially software developers. He has already warned company managers in 2012 that “once data has left Facebook’s servers, we will not know what developers are doing with it.” Parakilas particularly criticized the practice of giving user data and their circle of friends’ data to developers of apps. “Facebook knew that access to the data of friends’ circles equals risks.”
The following questions pop up: Has the company acted lightly and disregarded its own workers’ warnings? Has it done nothing to put an end to violating the privacy of their user data – a risk they knew well about?
#DELETEFACEBOOK: BECAUSE WE ARE NOT THE AUDIENCE OF THIS BATTLE
This scandal is not a mere game of throwing accusations between individuals, companies and governments directly or allegedly involved. According to leading technology news websites such as TechCrunch of The Next Web, this is a big battle and lesson involving all people using Facebook for personal and advertising purposes.
Abhimanyu Ghoshal in his article on The Next Web wrote that “it’s becoming clear that Mark Zuckerberg’s creation has evolved into a monster that can’t be tamed”. He advocates the need to leave Facebook behind and to create a safer, less intrusive and less exploitative social network that will not allow or intend to collect our data to shape our buyer or voter intent.
This follows from John Biggs’ #deletefacebook article on TechCrunch published with a perfect timing on Monday, March 19, just after the burning hot weekend news of the scandal. Biggs called Facebook “a cancer” and announced he decided to wean himself off this social network and run a script to delete his profile content.
Brian Acton, who co-founded WhatsApp and sold it to Facebook in 2014 for billions, did the same:
It is time. #deletefacebook
— Brian Acton (@brianacton) March 20, 2018
Time will show if #deletefacebook becomes a massive consequence of the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal. It is clear that in 24 or 48 hours millions or billions of people will not decide to resign from 1) their probably favourite social network, and 2) a powerful advertising platform for their brands. Also, it remains to be seen in numbers of profiles deleted and alternative actions taken, how many people took this lesson to finally understand what Facebook did (or still does?) with their data.
If you already know what happened, understand why you should care, and are as angry as Biggs or Acton, here’s Social Book Post Manager, a free Chrome extension you can use to batch #deletefacebook.