A Facebook associated company, British data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica is grabbing attention in India, the United States and Britain after the NYT and the Guardian carried a report recently that the company harvested personal data about Facebook users beginning in 2014. With the news hitting the stand, Facebook’s stock value reportedly falling by 11% (Approx $36bn) since Monday 19th March 2018, as the company comes under pressure from policymakers to explain how data collected from 50 million Facebook users was exploited for political gain. Data privacy has always been bubbling under the surface as a concern for Facebook users. Trust is the lifeblood of Facebook’s business. If it loses that, it will lose more than its stock price in the long run.
Cambridge Analytica (CA) is a subsidiary of UK-based SCL Group, which works on everything from food security research to counter-narcotics to political campaigns. SCL was founded more than 25 years ago, according to its website. CA was founded around 2013 initially with a focus on United States elections, with $15 million in backing from billionaire Republican donor Robert Mercer and a name chosen by future Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon, the New York Times reported.
It is noteworthy that CA helps political campaigns reach potential voters online. The firm combines data from multiple sources, including online information and polling, to build “profiles” of voters. The company then uses computer programs to predict voter behaviour, which then could be influenced through specialised advertisements aimed at the voters.
After this controversy came to the fore, Facebook said in a statement that Cambridge Analytica received user data from Aleksandr Kogan, a lecturer at the University of Cambridge. Kogan reportedly created an app called “thisisyourdigitallife” that offered personality predictions to users while calling itself a research tool for psychologists.
The app asked users to log in using their Facebook account. As part of the login process, it asked for access to users’ Facebook profiles, locations, what they liked on the service, and importantly, their friends’ data as well.
The problem, Facebook says, is that Kogan then sent this user data to Cambridge Analytica without user permission, something that’s against the social network’s rules.
“Although Kogan gained access to this information in a legitimate way and through the proper channels that governed all developers on Facebook at that time, he did not subsequently abide by our rules,” Paul Grewal, a vice president and general counsel at Facebook, said in a statement.
In the statement, Facebook further said that in 2015, when it learned that Dr Kogan’s research had been turned over to Cambridge Analytica, violating its terms of service, it removed Dr Kogan’s app from the site. It said it had demanded and received certification that the data had been destroyed. It is worth mentioning here that Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of the social media giant, also broke his silence on the issue saying that he admitted they had mistakes and explained the steps they would be taking to protect their users’ data.
Taking about its Indian connection, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress on recently traded charges over a Facebook data scandal involving private firm Cambridge Analytica, with the ruling party accusing its rival of ‘data theft’ to woo voters ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha polls, a claim the opposition party rejected. The Congress also hit back alleging that the “BJP’s factory of fake news has produced one more fake product”, and accused it of hiring the firm’s services in several elections, including in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
So, what can be expected in the future? Facebook, already facing deep questions over the use of its platform by those seeking to spread Russian propaganda and fake news, is facing a renewed backlash after the news about Cambridge Analytica. Investors have not been pleased, with the company suffering a loss of $50 billion in market value.
US senators have also urged Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg to testify before Congress about how the social media giant will protect its users. Alexander Nix, CEO of Cambridge Analytica, was suspended. Cambridge Analytica said it would proceed to carry out a full and independent investigation following the reports.
Hence, what can a user do? There isn’t much. You may’ve been swept up in this without even knowing it. You don’t have to have downloaded Kogan’s app to have had your information accessed. You should also check your privacy settings on Facebook.
Having said that it is to be emphasised with the social media giant’s own end users, regulators and shareholders, already concerned about fake news and election hacking the company has work to do to ensure that trust in the organization is maintained.’
It was 2014 when Facebook bought WhatsApp for an amount of $19 billion with an increased net worth of $6.5 billion of the ultimate co-founder of the same chat application Mr.Brian Acton is now campaigning for #DeleteFacebook who left Facebook in 2017 due to the issues over commoditisation of personal data.
“It is time. #deletefacebook,” Brian Acton tweeted to more than 23,000 of his followers. Facebook is facing flak after reports emerged that Cambridge Analytica, a London-based political data analytics firm, accessed the data of 50 million Facebook users without their permission. The firm, many years ago, received the user data from a Facebook app that purported to be a psychological research tool. However, Cambridge Analytica was not authorised to have that information. WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014.
Brian Acton’s departure from WhatsApp came just when the latter was about to monetize the platform for the first time with the launch of WhatsApp Business. According to reports, Acton was not on-board with Facebook wanting to monetize the app.
After leaving Facebook, Acton recently invested $50 million in encrypted instant messaging app Signal. The app is known for providing encrypted communication services as it does not access or store any of its users’ data. With the help of the funding, the company has launched a non-profit organization called the ‘Signal Foundation’ to boost the next generation of open-source privacy technology.
By Uday India Bureau