Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg will be questioned by US lawmakers today about the “use and abuse of data” — following weeks of breaking news about a data misuse scandal dating back to 2014.
The Guardian published its first story linking Cambridge Analytica and Facebook user data in December 2015. The newspaper reported that the Ted Cruz campaign had paid UK academics to gather psychological profiles about the US electorate using “a massive pool of mainly unwitting US Facebook users built with an online survey”.
Post-publication, Facebook released just a few words to the newspaper — claiming it was “carefully investigating this situation”.
Yet more than a year passed with Facebook seemingly doing nothing to limit third party access to user data nor to offer more transparent signposting on how its platform could be — and was being — used for political campaigns.
Through 2015 Facebook had actually been ramping up its internal focus on elections as a revenue generating opportunity — growing the headcount of staff working directly with politicians to encourage them to use its platform and tools for campaigning. So it can hardly claim it wasn’t aware of the value of user data for political targeting.
Yet in November 2016 Zuckerberg publicly rubbished the idea that fake news spread via Facebook could influence political views — calling it a “pretty crazy idea”. This at the same time as Facebook the company was embedding its own staff with political campaigns to help them spread election messages.
Another company was also involved in the political ad targeting business. In 2016 Cambridge Analytica signed a contract with the Trump campaign. According to former employee Chris Wylie — who last month supplied documentary evidence to the UK parliament — it licensed Facebook users data for this purpose.
The data was acquired and processed by Cambridge University professor Aleksandr Kogan whose personality quiz app, running on Facebook’s platform in 2014, was able to harvest personal data on tens of millions of users (a subset of which Kogan turned into psychological profiles for CA to use for targeting political messaging at US voters).
Cambridge Analytica has claimed it only licensed data on no more than 30M Facebook users — and has also claimed it didn’t actually use any of the data for the Trump campaign.
But this month Facebook confirmed that data on as many as 87M users was pulled via Kogan’s app.
What’s curious is that since March 17, 2018 — when the Guardian and New York Times published fresh revelations about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, estimating that around 50M Facebook users could have been affected — Facebook has released a steady stream of statements and updates, including committing to a raft of changes to tighten app permissions and privacy controls on …read more
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