Facebook faces federal scrutiny over Cambridge Analytica scandal
British news platform Channel 4 broke a story about the way Cambridge Analytica used data analysis to advertise to targeted groups of people to gain electoral success in political elections all around the world. Shortly after the investigation broke on Channel 4, an ex-employee of Cambridge Analytica, Christopher Wylie, revealed to The New York Times and The Guardian who was involved in getting Donald Trump elected as president through the use of millions of Facebook Inc. users’ information.
The initial figure 45 million users, whose information was reported to have been breached, was incorrect. As it was later reported, the figure was closer to 87 million users.
The company was hired by Trump’s presidential campaign manager, Steve Bannon, and the money invested in the project was donated by Robert Mercer, a New York Republican billionaire who invested a total of $15 million, according to Wylie.
Cambridge Analytica went on to meet with Dr. Aleksandr Kogan, a professor at Cambridge University who had previously developed a personality test linked to Facebook. Kogan was given a total of $800,000 for the information he collected.
Many speculations remain that Kogan also sold this information to Russia, which interfered with the 2016 U.S. elections by sowing division through a disinformation campaign using Facebook as its facilitation platform.
In an interview with NPR, Roger McNamee, one of Facebook’s original investors and an early mentor to Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, said that 270,000 people voluntarily signed up to take this personality test through an app.
The breach of privacy came when the information of those 270,000 users’ friends was also stored by Kogan’s app, totaling close to 50 million users.
While Facebook gives each member the option to set their information as private, users’ also give third party apps access to their information, which includes the groups they belong to, the brands and personalities they follow, what they share and who they share it with and all other activity.
This kind of information became a gold mine for Cambridge Analytica. In 2014, Facebook became aware of this activity and asked that the information be deleted. Facebook then took no further action on the matter.
After the scandal was revealed, Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica’s current, but suspended CEO, denied obtaining people’s information illegally, even after the undercover investigation by Channel 4 revealed that such activity did occur.
The backlash toward Facebook began as soon as the story broke, as users were angered by the lack of transparency from the social media giant, and for Facebook’s deception about how private information was being used.
The hashtag #DeleteFacebook started circulating throughout Facebook and other social media platforms.
Zuckerberg was initially silent, but a few days later in an interview with CNN, he expressed his regret in “not doing enough” and apologized to all users. Zuckerberg claimed he is committed to investigating every app that has similar access to huge amounts of data like Cambridge Analytica has. He followed up on this apology by buying advertisements on major news publications in Germany and the United States such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The Observer that read, “We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you.” Zuckerberg’s apology included a willingness to possibly regulate Facebook and cooperate with any investigations.
Zuckerberg’s cooperation and public apology, however, have not been enough to stop the economic fallout that is affecting his company. Facebook’s overall stock is down almost 10 percent this year, trending downward ever since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke.
According to The National, a United Arab Emirates newspaper, a poll conducted by Kantar EMNID — a unit of a global advertising firm that includes 2,237 people in the United States and Germany — 60 percent of people fear that Facebook and other social media platforms are having a negative impact on democracy.
The poll also revealed that over 60 percent of U.S. citizens trust other big tech companies such as Google and Amazon, compared with only 41 percent who trust Facebook.
The poll’s results and the company’s stock were expected to drop after this news came to light.
However, CNN Money reported that Zuckerberg’s conference call last week revealed that the #DeleteFacebook hashtag has not made a significant difference, since only a few customers and advertisements have left the platform.
On April 25, Facebook’s first quarterly report is set to be published, which will give the first real look at how the scandal has affected Facebook’s profit.