7 Ways to look at the Facebook – Cambridge Analytica scandal

Clearly, Facebook is living its worst time since its founding. Everywhere you turn and each webpage you open, you will see a different angle of Cambridge Analytica’s scandal in which Facebook had a leading role.

As Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg declared, Facebook suffered “a huge breach of trust”.

You probably realized a while back that Facebook is not just a “socializing” platform. But the backlash Facebook faces these days is clearly at one of its lowest levels.

Facebook deceived you and million others. What now?

Here is what Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg said after the Cambridge Analytica scandal:

“We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you,” Zuckerberg wrote. “I’ve been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

He promised that the company will investigate all third-party apps that had access to large amounts of data before 2014 (when Facebook prevented app developers accessing data from users’ friends). He added that the site will ban any app developers that don’t comply with a full audit and inform their users if a violation is found.

The question is: Can you believe him? Or can you trust any of Zuckerberg’s statements?

During an interview in 2009, he serenely stated that:we’re not going to share people’s information except for with the people they’ve asked for it to be shared.”

 

We all know in reality, the opposite happened.

1. The effects of political advertising on Facebook

Aleksandr Kogan, a researcher at Cambridge University, lured around 270,000 people to take part in a survey. Users who installed the survey app, shared information about themselves and their friends. Before 2015, privacy rules of Facebook allowed collecting users’ connections data without their consent.

Kogan offered all the collected data to Cambridge Analytica which were used to influence Donald Trump’s campaign.

At one point, we all got used to the idea that we are manipulated by online advertisers whenever we visit any website. We figured out Facebook manipulates our thoughts as well, but some of us still believed we’ve got everything under control. But who thought things could get so far and social platforms would be able to influence or even deceive our political views and decisions?

Suzanne Moore, journalist at the Guardian, crosses the t’s and dot the i’s:

“With political advertising, we notice it more when we disagree with its message. Negative campaigning works because we tend to believe negative things about others. If Facebook apps harvest, via quizzes, psychographic profiles of users then their fears can be played too. […] How such a campaign might work through digital microtargeting is scary.”

2. Facebook’s explanation: It’s not a bug, it’s a feature

Ethan Zuckerman, in “The Atlantic:

”The Cambridge Analytica breach is a known bug in two senses. Aleksandr Kogan… didn’t break into Facebook’s servers and steal data. He used the Facebook Graph API,…which allowed people to build apps that harvested data both from people who chose to use the app, and from their Facebook friends. As the media scholar Jonathan Albright put it:”…the vast majority of problems that have arisen as a result of this integration were meant to be ‘features, not bugs.’”

However, this Facebook feature is closely linked to privacy policies. How many of us read Facebook’s privacy policy before we made an account? Or the privacy policy for any app we have ever installed?

We are all guilty. But it’s not too late to do something about it.

3. Facebook’s never-ending privacy policy changes

Over the years, Facebook has continually changed its privacy policies, sometimes giving users the illusion that they can control more what happens with all the data they post on the platform.

Data privacy is not set in stone at Facebook (and the same applies to many other companies). Since privacy policies always change, you always have to keep yourself updated. Not to mention, can you trust a social media platform who constantly changes its mind about how they handle your personal data?

Here is just a short overview of the privacy policies changes:

2009

The good: Facebook allowed you to define the privacy of your content for each post;

The bad: publicly available information could have been seen by all Facebook users with an active account.

Overall, Facebook didn’t allow you to improve your privacy settings, but quite the opposite.

2013

The good: If your friends post about your location or whom you’re with, you can ask Facebook to remove your name from those posts.

The bad: The option to stop anyone finding you on Facebook by searching your name (if you had it checked when you created an account) had been removed.

2014:

The good: Facebook tried to make privacy policies more clear and gave you more details about why you’re seeing certain ads.

The bad: Facebook introduced the real-name policy, which didn’t allow you to create an account with a fake name or pseudonym.

Check out Robert Knapp’s speech on Facebook and the state of online privacy today.

The problem with Facebook’s privacy policies weren’t just the constant changes, but their lack of clarity.

Nick Bilton, Vanity Fair journalist:

“In 2010, I wrote a piece for The New York Times pointing out that Facebook’s privacy policy was so confusing that you had to navigate through 50 different settings with more than 170 options to make your information private. Back then, the company’s privacy statement was longer than the U.S. Constitution.”

Ok, Facebook is not the only platform or website with privacy policies that are hard to read or follow. However, as online surfers, we got used to this practice and we also make a compromise because we don’t have time or enough patience to read 2,000 words of privacy policy.

Ethan Zuckerman calls this a bargain

“in which people get content and services for free in exchange for having persuasive messages psychographically targeted to them, as the “original sin” of the internet. It’s a dangerous and socially corrosive business model that puts internet users under constant surveillance and continually pulls our attention from the tasks we want to do online toward the people paying to hijack our attention. It’s a terrible model that survives only because we haven’t found another way to reliably support most internet content and services—including getting individuals to pay for the things they claim to value.”

Raj Samani, McAfee Fellow and Chief Scientist believes that:

“Often we hear and worry about cybercriminals stealing from our devices, but in the same vein we accept ‘free’ services and pay by giving away every insight into our lives and those of our families.”

4. Online manipulation taken to the next level

Online surveillance is not a new thing. We’ve been “nagging” you about this for years!

If you think about it, Facebook is the perfect tool to easily manipulate and monitor people as they willingly expose their life and activities online. Inevitably, governments and companies were going to take advantage of this tool to fulfill their plans and maximize their profits.

Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian columnist:

” It can’t be only political campaigners who used the likes of Cambridge Analytica to pickpocket our personal data; surely we’ll learn soon of the major corporations that similarly played on our online hopes and fears to sell us stuff. But we don’t have to have the full picture to know that we have to act. It could be regulation; it could be anti-trust legislation to break up those tech giants that act as virtual monopolies. “

Apparently, Facebook’s connection with Cambridge Analytica goes deeper. Ars Technica discovered that since 2015, many Android users who downloaded Facebook apps granted those apps permission to access their contacts, including call and message logs. Of course, users had no idea about it. Facebook continued this practice until October 2017, when Google changed the way Androids store their data.

5. What does online advertising on Facebook imply?

Facebook, along with Google, are the two giants that attract 84 per cent of global spending on digital advertising. Marketers and advertisers run to these two companies because they know their rate of success will be the highest possible. They can not only reach to billions of people, but they know they will reach the right people with their advertisements.

Our #personaldata has become very valuable and important for everyone else, except for us. Click to Tweet

Protecting yourself from having your data being misused or stolen is one of the greatest challenges we face today.

Columnist James Ball argues that

“if data is the new oil, then the oil wells are in the hands of a few billionaires, and we’re being pumped through the pipes. To see the extent to which this is true, we need look no further than the increase in American wealth held by the richest 0.1% (about 160,000 families) of US society. It has risen from 7% in 1978 to more than 20% today, according to Stanford University research, with the bulk of this increase happening in the dotcom era.”

6. Facebook has altered our online habits and expectations

Once you got addicted to Facebook, at least at one point, the first thing you did when you went online was to check what your friend posted. You started to compare your happiness with your friends’ level of happiness based on the content of their account.

You had to be present on Facebook because everybody else was and you felt you were missing out on so many if you wouldn’t check what was happening on Facebook.

7. How much of what Facebook did is legal?

Now this is a sensitive topic. In just one week after the Cambridge Analytica scandal emerged, Facebook has faced four lawsuits.

Interestingly, one of them came from a Facebook user who filed it on behalf of 50 million people whose data was used during the 2016 elections.

Mark Zuckerberg is also expected to testify in front of the American Congress later this month.

Collecting people’s personal data for a different purpose than the one they gave their consent to is not only a trap, it is also not legal.

Hopefully, Facebook will start to understand that. Regardless, at least EU citizens will become more protected as GDPR will soon come to the scene. Based on the new regulation, EU citizens will be able to decide and control what happens with their online personal data, including the one available on social media.

 

Your privacy is your responsibility

Facebook may try to change for the better. But we can’t never know for sure. Sure, governments and organizations should work together and make technology companies and online tools safer for everyone.

You can’t never rely on others, but you can rely on yourself if you properly take care of your online data and what you do online.

So think twice what you post, when and where, who you make friends with online and just ponder how much good will it do to simply spend hours on a social media platform like Facebook.

 

About the author

Dana Vioreanu
Dana Vioreanu

Even though her degree is in Sociology, which technically has nothing to do with writing, all her previous jobs implied working for websites, taking care of content and writing articles.
By the way, if you’re interested in studying abroad, feel free to ask her a few pointers, because for about two years and a half, she learned almost everything there is to know about international studies.

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