Amid the Cambridge Analytica “firestorm,” Engadget takes a closer look at the mass-scale profiling the data science company pulled off, harvesting more than 50 million Facebook profiles in the United States alone, without users’ consent.
According to Engadget, Cambridge Analytica (CA) is a political data analytics firm that seeks to “bring a specific kind of expertise to bear on the American electoral process;” the company is able to do this by scraping pieces of personal data from the internet and splicing them together to create profiles assigned to internet users who could be targeted with specific ads and content. CA was ultimately able to collect such personal data through “personality tests” offered on the Facebook login app, which was created by psychology researcher Aleksandr Kogan.
The tests were created and placed in the Facebook app; once taken, the tests would “spit out some kind of personal prediction at the end.” The results were obtained by Kogan, who then provided the personality scores to CA. Through the results, CA was able to walk away with more than 270,000 users’ information, plus the information of the people that those users followed on Facebook, without given consent.
Engadget says that Facebook is not calling this even a data breach; since the users who took the personality test on that app “did so willingly,” that means the information was obtained under Facebook’s guidelines. However, chaos ensued after “Kogan broke Facebook’s rules and provided that information to Cambridge Analytica.”
Now, Facebook is under major scrutiny by users, the media, and politicians alike; some are even calling for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to testify in court.
What this means for decision makers:
Unfortunately for end users and decision makers utilizing Facebook, what’s done is done; there is a chance that their personal information is out there. However, scenarios and crises regarding social media like these serve as good examples of what to do – and what not to do – next time. As Facebook’s and CA’s case ramps up, decision makers can take stock on the situation and evaluate the things that their companies and institutions can control regarding social media, including privacy policies, best practices, and more. Decision makers can also take time to evaluate how their business or institution is utilizing social media, which audiences they are engaging with, and how they are handling any collected data.
Engadget writer Chris Velazco even recommends that all users with Facebook reconsider keeping their accounts active: “If you’re a Facebook user, then you and all of your Facebooking friends are collectively the single most valuable thing the company has. Its fortunes rise and fall when its user numbers ebb and flow.” Deleting you Facebook account, he says, reduces the amount of information end users are “unknowingly offering to the machine.”