Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm, claimed to have technology that could determine voters’ personalities more accurately than even their close friends. They made promises to their clients and in an effort to fulfill those promises, they had to come through with large amounts of data. The recent news is filled with the account of the firm’s involvement in the supposed Facebook data breaches. The way in which they gathered that information has caused controversial outrage and has the world considering the perimeters of personal security in an age where technology is quickly gaining speed, testing current ethical boundaries.
In Cambridge Analytica’s approach to collecting the data of tens of millions of Facebook users, they contracted the services of Aleksandr Kogan, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge who used an app that he built in 2014 to collect the data. The app, called “thisisyourdigitallife,” offered users a sum of money to take a personality test. Many of these users had no knowledge that their demographic data was being collected and used, through Facebook, to collect millions of profiles, then later used to contribute to the election of Donald Trump to the White House during the 2016 campaign.
While Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, addressed the controversy with a pledge to protect data by restricting third-party access to Facebook data, many Facebook users are pointing to continued agitation over the fact that the firm’s actions are not new or unique. Data is now considered the currency of the world. Information runs a high price, and in this scenario, the information of American Facebook members gathered without consent was sold for a million dollars. Facebook, the most popular social media platform in the world, gathers copious amounts of personal data about its users, and as a primary business model, then allows advertisers to use the collected data.
Facebook did not do their due diligence of informing users whose information had been gathered. The lack of disclosure is likely not an isolated event. The latest incident with Cambridge Analytica isn’t necessarily a new event, but has caused a major outcry for online privacy. Many are deleting their Facebook profiles which has caused many complications, as Facebook is now so embedded in our online culture that many other platforms are linked to user information and are required for logging on. But many have pointed out that this isn’t the first time this has happened, and in most cases, after the commotion settles, things usually settle and go back to normal. What makes this case any different?
In a landscape where band-aids are applied to cover the larger issues that are meant to undermine and pacify for a short time, until the next issue is unveiled. But many people are particularly sensitive to this new scandal and are calling out an entire system in the name of privacy. As Facebook experiences backlash from the recent scandal about how it protects its user data, many are concerned about the larger issue of privacy and how the current obsession with data marketing is a symptom of manipulation.
Ultimately, what we can take away from these disappointing reports of data being harvested is that personal data privacy is a commodity to political advertisers and any system that abuses the information of the users of online social discourse—which is literally almost every person who engages a digital community, uses a computer, or owns a smart device. It’s a call to take a closer look at what you subscribe to and be much more careful about privacy settings and understanding the consequences of sharing your data. While it’s a major misstep for Facebook and their lack of transparency, it’s an alarm for the everyday user to manage their online lives closely and stay informed about the rapidly aggressive threats that are looming there.
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