The British data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, is now at the centre of controversy in US, Britain and India after it was reported that the company harvested user’s data since the beginning of 2014. But how does that matter? And more importantly, should you be worried?
What is Cambridge Analytica?
Cambridge Analytica is a small branch of SCL Group. SCL Group is a government and military contractor that works on everything from food security research to counternarcotics, to political campaigns. SCL Group, according to its website, was founded 25 years ago.
Cambridge Analytica was founded back in 2013 with the initial focus on the United States election. It received a $15 million in backing from billionaire Republican donor Robert Mercer and a name chosen by future Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon, according to the New York Times.
What does this firm do?
So, Cambridge Analytica helps political campaigns reach potential voters. The firm gathers and combines the data from multiple sources, including online information and polling to build virtual “profiles” of such potential voters.
Next, the company uses computer programs to predict the behaviour of the voter that can be further influenced by specialized advertisements aimed at the voters. In short, the firm can manipulate the voters, or try to manipulate them, but understanding them and showing them contextual information by means of advertisements.
What is the link between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica?
Facebook said, in a statement, that Cambridge Analytica received their data from Aleksandr Kogan, a University of Cambridge lecturer. Kogan created an all caked “thisisyourdigitallife” that offered personality predictions to users while collecting data about the users. It was calling itself as a research tool for psychologists.
The app accessed the Facebook account data, including location data, what they liked on Facebook, as well as the data of their friends. This gave the app an immense reach when it comes to data access.
The problem is that Kogan sent this data to Cambridge Analytica without the consent of the user. This is something against the rules of the social network. However, even after knowing this, Facebook did not do much to stop the app developer or Cambridge Analytica. They simply asked Cambridge Analytica to delete the data but never investigated to see if the data was actually deleted or not.
“Although Kogan gained access to this information in a legitimate way and through the proper channels that governed all developers on Facebook at that time, he did not subsequently abide by our rules,” Paul Grewal, a vice president and general counsel at Facebook, said in a statement.
What did Facebook do about it?
The company issued a statement that Dr Kogan handed over the data to Cambridge Analytica without the consent of the user, violating the terms of service. It also asked for certification that the data has been destroyed. However, Facebook did nothing besides that.
Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, also broke his silence and said that mistakes were made along the way and explained that they would take further steps now on to protect the user’s data.
Where does the Trump Campaign fit in?
Trump hired Cambridge Analytica to run the data operations during the 2016 campaign. Steve Bannon, who, in the long run, became Trump’s chief strategist was the vice president of Cambridge Analytica’s board.
The company help to identify voters to target with ads and gave advice on how best to focus its approach, such as where to make campaign stops. It also helped with strategic communication, like what to say in speeches.
Does this mean that Trump won the election unfairly?
Nothing conclusive can be said about how and if the election tampered. In Trump’s campaign, there was another party meddling with the elections, that is, the Russians. But the broader question is, how does Cambridge Analytica help win elections?
What Happened in India?
In India, The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress on Wednesday traded charges over a Facebook data scandal involving private firm Cambridge Analytica, with the ruling party accusing its rival of ‘data theft’ to woo voters ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha polls, a claim the opposition party rejected.
So, what’s next?
Facebook is already facing deep concerns about its feature. WhatsApp’s founder, whose company was overtaken by Facebook, also tweeted that it is time to delete your Facebook account. Facebook has become too big to police itself and Zuckerberg surely bit more than we could chew. The #DeleteFacebook hashtag is trending online as more and more people are going offline or using alternate platforms. Even Mozilla, the company behind the iconic web browser, Firefox posted on Facebook that they would pause all activity on Facebook.
Investors have not been pleased, with the company suffering a loss of $50 billion in market value.
US senators have also urged Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg to testify before Congress about how the social media giant will protect its users.
Alexander Nix, CEO of Cambridge Analytica, was suspended. Cambridge Analytica said it would proceed to carry out a full and independent investigation following the reports.
As a user, what can I do?
Be it Facebook, or any other place, do not give more than the bare amount of information that is needed to open and sustain the account. Delete all the apps that you have not used on Facebook for more than once and recheck your privacy settings.