Facebook's Cambridge Analytica Scandal Makes Tech Companies Re-evaluate Operations

 
 Cambridge Analytica located at 597 5th Ave, 7th Floor | Photo by Elizabeth Winn

Cambridge Analytica located at 597 5th Ave, 7th Floor | Photo by Elizabeth Winn

After five days of silence Mark Zuckerberg—Co-Founder, Chairman and CEO of Facebook—spoke up on Wednesday, March 21 about Facebook’s role in the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal.

“This was a breach of trust between Kogan, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook.” Zuckerberg said on his personal Facebook page. “But it was also a breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it. We need to fix that.”

Through Facebook, Cambridge Analytica—an international data analytics firm—has acquired a significant amount of data on the public which has enabled them to appeal to their target audience in numerous political campaigns across the globe. Playing an influential role in both Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016, Cambridge Analytica’s role in politics has been shrouded by uncertainty and controversy. However, until now, this company’s uncanny success remained a mystery.  

Christopher Wylie, former employee of Cambridge Analytica, provided the press with testimony and confidential documents released Sunday by the Guardian, revealing just how the firm got the information that allowed them to target and “change audience behavior.”

 Based on a poll of 45 people, students seem either unsure or dedicated to keeping their Facebook accounts

Based on a poll of 45 people, students seem either unsure or dedicated to keeping their Facebook accounts

As a company that prides itself on “understanding what motivates the individual” and possessing a notable reputation for numerous campaign victories in political circles, Cambridge Analytica has come under extreme scrutiny as the firm’s underhanded dealings have surfaced. Acquiring millions of private citizens’ information by illicitly utilizing Facebook’s application facet, American-Russian academic Aleksandr Kogan prompted citizens to download and share the app with their friends, giving the researcher a significant amount of access to not just the user’s personal lives, but their friends and families as well. Kogan retained the data for alleged research purposes which Cambridge Analytica later acquired. Through this seemingly harmless activity, downloading an app, Cambridge Analytica gained access to information far beyond what the unwitting users were volunteering.

Due to this breach of trust between social media users and their platform, tech companies around the world now have to re-evaluate how they operate.

 Now, the company has data and psychographic profiles on “230 million Americans.” Of this number, not even 1% consented to sharing their data. With this confidential information, the company used citizens’ private data to target them. Cambridge Analytica and affiliates planted political ads in the feeds of Facebook users to influence the outcome of Brexit and the United States’ 2016 Presidential election. In an interview with the Guardian, Wylie confessed, “We broke Facebook.”

Due to this breach of trust between social media users and their platform, tech companies around the world now have to re-evaluate how they operate. Like Facebook, several tech companies operate using Application Programming Interfaces (API) that allow their users’ data to be available to outside developers. Now, however, social media platforms will have to step up their game and secure the information of their users.

API’s have sat “at the core of the contemporary internet,” Reuters wrote, creating a transparent relationship between data developers and users that has benefitted both parties. And though, API’s have made online shopping and the circulation of news articles  easier than ever, the circulation of personal information has become easier as well. Due to Facebook’s unfortunate role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, tech companies and their users will have to make changes as user data becomes secured and protected.

Cambridge Analytica’s involvement in Brexit and the Trump campaign has cast a shadow of uncertainty over the state of the world today. Though Cambridge Analytica did tamper with personal data and target specific audiences, whether it played the determining role in the election cannot be determined. Some would argue it didn’t play much of a role at all.

“The beliefs were already there,” said TKC Republicans member, Paige Pruett, “they were just aggravated.