On Saturday, the Observer reported that the political research company Cambridge Analytica with ties to President Trump, had acquired 50 million Facebook user accounts without authorization. Since then, Facebook market shares keep going down, and the security breach has been placed among the most consequential data breaches in history.
As Cambridge Analytica did not have enough time to create its own custom profiles for the 2016 elections, the company asked the researcher Aleksandr Kogan to develop a Facebook app paying users to take a personality test.
Unfortunately, there were a couple of problems with this arrangement. The first one is that Kogan did not have any permission from Facebook to use the data he gathered for commercial purposes, and second – the app not only harvested user profile data for the personality test, but also acquired the user profile data of each test taker’s friends without their knowledge.
Yet, the main problem for users is that Facebook waited more than two years before revealing the so called “unprecedented data harvesting”. So, the users had no clue that Cambridge Analytica have used their profiles to develop techniques for influencing voters.
The company stated they haven’t done anything wrong, saying that “no data from [the researcher] was used by Cambridge Analytica as part of the services it provided to the Donald Trump 2016 presidential campaign”. However, there are questions over whether the Trump campaign appears nonetheless to have gained an advantage in the election from the data breach.
The company Cambridge Analytica has also denied any inappropriate use of Facebook user profiles, but a former employee who is now a whistleblower has emphatically contradicted the claim.
Currently, Facebook has 2.1bn active users, 1.4bn of whom use the website every day. As a social networking platform, it enables people to share ideas, photos and life events with friends, which collectively gives Facebook the highest-resolution image of every user of any media company, with an emphasis on emotions.
For advertisers, Facebook is exceptional for its ability to target more than half of all the people in every developed market and the power it gives to advertisers.
About five years ago, security experts suggested that Facebook algorithms could be used for predicting things like product and political preferences from just a handful of “likes”. However, the experts were concerned about the privacy implications, partially because the default Facebook setting for likes was “public”.
Considering all the analysis so far, Facebook may be liable for a data breach, which may create legal problems under state law. The attorney general of Massachusetts has announced an investigation, and Cambridge Analytica may face charges that it broke US election laws by employing people who were neither US citizens nor green card holders on a US presidential election campaign. Both of them may be subject to action by the FTC.
In any case, after the massive security breach, Facebook is certain that the data must be regulated as soon as possible, in order to ensure user privacy.