Making Sense of the Questions and Controversy Surrounding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica

High-profile news stories have a way of turning into a multi-headed hydra. You cut off one head and another one grows back with each head clamoring for your attention. In the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica situation, sorting out mistakes from myths has turned into a Herculean task. This update passes along facts to Facebook personal and business users. As additional information becomes available, Seychelle Media will continue to share updates.

An Extremely Short Summary of the Facts

Cambridge Analytica is a political and commercial consulting firm with offices in New York, Washington DC, and London. The company utilizes data analysis including data brokering and datamining for the purpose of better understanding the electorate or consumer and helping political groups or corporate clients more efficiently and effectively reach their audience. When done ethically, this process is neither evil nor wrong.

The problem occurred when select information on as many as 50 million Facebook users became available to Cambridge Analytica after approximately 270,000 users chose to download and use a specific app. The datamining app masqueraded as a personality profiling quiz. The app captured some of the quiz taker’s data as well as data from their Facebook friends who never downloaded the app or took the quiz.

But Wait, This Didn’t Happen Last Week

Facebook unwittingly created a vulnerability in 2007 when it expanded the capability of apps to see a user’s Facebook friends. The objective was to make it easier for users and their friends to share certain types of information. In 2014, Facebook changed the process after recognizing the potential for abuse. Apps could no longer gain access to a person’s friends, unless the friend authorized the access.

In 2015, Facebook learned that data collected by Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan, the creator of the problematic personality profile app, had been shared with Cambridge Analytica. Facebook then banned the Kogan app from the platform and demanded that Kogan and Cambridge Analytica formally certify their deletion of all improperly acquired data.

Here’s What Did Happen Last Week

Upon Facebook’s learning (last week) that Cambridge Analytica may not have destroyed the data, Facebook then banned the consulting firm from using any Facebook services. Facebook has also hired a forensic auditor to conduct a review of Cambridge Analytica and confirm that Cambridge Analytica, has in fact destroyed the data gleaned from Kogan’s app. Cambridge Analytica has agreed to fully cooperate with the audit.

Facing the Consequences

In an interview with CNN, Mark Zuckerberg said, “We (Facebook) have a basic responsibility to protect people’s data and if we can’t do that we don’t deserve to have the opportunity to serve people.” Calling the situation, “a major breach of trust,” he apologized that it had happened.

Owning Facebook’s mistakes, Zuckerberg has acknowledged that they had made errors and fixed these problems several years ago, but that there was more the company could and would be doing to make user data more secure. On Sunday, Facebook ran full page ads in several major UK and US newspapers reiterating his apology. In addition to promising improvements, Zuckerberg has stated that he is not averse to the idea of social media regulation, although he acknowledged that getting the regulatory language right could be challenging.

In hindsight, Facebook clearly could have done a better job of protecting consumer data. And automobile manufacturers should have put safety belts in cars starting with the first Model T just as drug companies should have always had child safety caps on all their products.

Before you gasp, we are not excusing Facebook’s error or making light of it. Neither are we endorsing the attempt by some companies to capitalize on it by grabbing headlines and proclaiming, “We are leaving Facebook!” in an attempt to be perceived as the social media righteous.

Welcoming More Scrutiny, Transparency, and Enhanced Security

If you are a business that reaches your customers or has considered connecting with your market via Facebook advertising, none of what has happened thus far should discourage you from doing so. In fact, logic suggests you will find Facebook’s tighter guidelines encouraging.

Given that your objective as an advertiser is to improve your capability to connect with the people most interested in your goods or services, Facebook’s enhancements to those processes will only serve you better. Because you run your business using ethical marketing practices, you have every reason to welcome changes to Facebook’s advertising policies and data management protocol when these updates are implemented to protect the Facebook user. Likewise, if you are a consumer with a Facebook account, there’s only so much you can accomplish by being distraught now about a problem that was corrected three years ago. Facebook’s privacy policies were changed when the problem was identified and are continuing to be improved.

Yes, this hydra has many heads, and there’s a lot to discuss, but perhaps not as many reasons to panic as some in the media would like you to believe.

You can expect to read much more here about the Facebook/ Cambridge Analytica controversy as it continues to play out. We hope you’ll follow the events, by reading our next update: The Earth is Not Flat and Other Reasons Facebook Advertising is Beneficial to Businesses and Consumers.

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