It is the biggest scandal ever to rock Facebook and it has dominated the headlines for the last couple of weeks. What exactly happened and what implications does it have for us?
Here’s the lowdown:
On March 17th The New York Times and the Observer newspapers revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a political data-mining and consulting firm, got hold of the personal information of 50 million Facebook users and may have later used it to craft ads and messages for President Trump’s 2016 campaign.
It was later revealed that more than 87 million people around the world may have had their data improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica.
Facebook had previously accused an academic, Dr Aleksandr Kogan, of violating its terms by passing on data from a personality test app – thisisyourdigitallife – to the UK-based political consultancy firm.
According to the social network, the vast majority of accounts – 70 million – that may have been affected belong to people in the US. However, it is now known that 15 people in Ireland installed thisisyourdigitallife, and up to 44,687 people in Ireland may have been friends with someone who installed the app, and, therefore, may have been affected.
Anyone potentially affected will be informed, Facebook has said.
Here are the facts on Cambridge Analytica and the case in general:
What does Cambridge Analytica do?
It analyses opinion polls and other social and political trends, as well as data about different types of individuals, to identify issues and messages that might sway voters towards certain candidates or issues. .
How did Cambridge Analytica use the Facebook data?
It analysed Facebook users’ posts, likes and friends lists to determine trends and issues concerning potential voters, grouped voters into many different categories, and came up with ways to influence those potential voters’ opinions.
How and when was this data collected?
Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge professor behind GSR, wrote a Facebook survey app in 2014 that asked Facebook users about their opinions and habits in exchange for a small reward. Only about 270,000 Facebook users actually took the survey. But because of Facebook’s permissions at the time, the survey software was able to “scrape” data from the accounts of the Facebook friends of Facebook users who took the survey, finally collecting data on about 87 million Facebook users – Essentially Facebook allowed a private company collect data on 87 million people, without the consent of all but a handful of those people. They felt this was okay as long it was just used for academic purposes.
Can you expose your Facebook friends by answering a survey?
Not any more, or at least not to the same extent. Facebook shut down the functionality in 2015.
When did Facebook learn that the data had been handed over to Cambridge Analytica, and what did it do?
Facebook says that it learned in 2015 that the data had been misused. It sent a sternly worded letter to Cambridge Analytica, GSR and former Cambridge Analytica/SCL contractor Christopher Wylie, telling all three parties that they must delete the data. Facebook did not ask for proof that the data had been deleted.
Why is this all coming to light now?
Christopher Wylie, the Canadian data-mining expert who worked for SCL and Cambridge Analytica in 2013 and 2014, told his side of the story to the Times and the Observer. Wylie said he choose to do so after Parliament had been told that Cambridge Analytica and SCL had never used Facebook data for political purposes, which Wylie believed to be lies.
We hope this clears up any concerns or ponderings you had over this saga, although something tells me we may not have heard the last of this data breach yet. Until next week.