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Facebook - Cambridge Analytica Data Scandal

Facebook Cambridge-Analytica was a major political scandal which came into light in early 2018 when it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica had harvested the personal data of millions of people without their consent. Cambridge Analytica (CA) is a UK-based data analytics firm which tried to influence potential voters through its online political campaigns by combining data from various sources including online information. It accessed the personal data of people for political purposes and used the same for presidential election campaigns. This scandal resulted in the massive fall in Facebook’s stock price and people demanded that there must be strict regulations for the tech-companies use of data from the users. The scandal was described as a watershed moment by people all over the world. As per the allegations, the firm has extracted the data with the help of a quiz app called "This Is Your Digital Life". The quiz was taken up by nearly 300,000 people, and the app illegally acquired data of the users as well as their friends and get access to nearly 87 million profiles. This data was further misused for targeted 2015 and 2016 political campaigns for U.S. politicians Donald Trump and Tred Cruz,[1]2016 UK’s Brexit referendum[2]and 2018 Mexican General Elections for Institutional Revolutionary Party.[3][4][5][6]CA has denied the allegations stating that it had contracted Global Science Research (GSR) for a large-scale research project. Cambridge Analytica has reported that the data obtained by GSR is in accordance with UK Data Protection Act and is done with prior consent of the users.

How Data Leak Occurred
In April 2010, Facebook launched a platform called Open Graph to third party apps which allows app developers to access the personal data of users by requesting them. These apps if accepted can have access to users friend’s personal data too. Within five weeks of the launch of Open Graph, Facebook came up with a newer version Open Graph API version 1.0 for developers. Through these apps, the app developers accessed the personal data of people and created their psychological profile. After the creation of psychological profile, the app prompted users to answer questions for the profile. It was estimated that around 300,000 users have been paid to take the psychological test. The data was leaked through a quiz app called" This Is Your Digital Life”which was developed by Aleksandr Kogan, a researcher in Cambridge University. The app was provided to Cambridge Analytica which in turn arranged a process of informed consent in which several hundred thousand Facebook users would agree to complete a survey only for academic use. Facebook’s Design allowed this app to collect the information of all the people in those users Facebook social network. This helps Cambridge Analytica in acquiring data from millions of Facebook users.

Characteristics of Data
Facebook in its report stated that, “the information gathered by Cambridge Analytica includes a person’s public profile, pages like, birthday and current city.[7]However, some of the users have given the permission to app to access their news feed, timeline and messages”. Cambridge Analytica used the data to create psychological profiles of the subjects of the data which is further used to creative advertisements to persuade a particular person in a particular location for some political campaign.

Reports on Facebook Data Leak

India has the highest number of Facebook users with around 250 million users in the world followed by United States with 230 million users. According to the report of ‘The Observer’ and ‘The New York Times’, the dataset has included personal information of about 50 million users. However, Facebook in its report stated that up to 87 million people[8]were affected by the data leaked out of which 70.6 million people are from United States.[9]California was the most affected U.S. state with around 6.7 million users followed by Texas and Florida having 5.6 and 4.3 million data leaks respectively.[10]Around 600,000 Indians were affected by the Facebook data leak which is 0.6% of global number of potentially affected people. After the revelations of the data scandal, Facebook shares have dropped to 8% posing serious questions about the data privacy of the social media users. However, Facebook has said that they have taken all possible measures to prevent recurrence.

Flow Chart Illustrating affected users in India and United States
Facebook Cambridge-Analytica Data Scandal

87 million affected users

16.4 million users from other countries

70.6 million users from United States

600,000 Indian people’s data has been accessed by CA. This is 0.6% of the global number of potentially affected people and 0.22% of Facebook users in India
6.7 million users from California (most affected U.S. state)
5.6 million users from Texas
4.3 million users from Florida

Facebook’s Responsibility

It was alleged that Facebook had prior knowledge about the data misdemeanor at Cambridge Analytica since 2015 and, still the company made it possible for the app-developers to collect information about the users. Cambridge Analytica Data Scandal highlights Facebook’s all-too-casual approach in protecting user data. Around, 2 billion people have been affected directly or indirectly by the data leak that happened early this year. The most worrying thing that came out of Facebook’s Inc’s admission was that Cambridge Analytica’s political advisory had accessed personal data of around 87 million people which is way more than 50 million people as previously thought; and that around 600,000 of these people whose data was accessed are Indians. From this scandal, a big message for India is that there is a pressing need for comprehensive and contemporary data protection law. After the revelation of the scandal, Zuckerberg came out with full-page ads in a number of British and American newspapers to apologize for the “breach of trust”.

Former director of research at Cambridge Analytica Cristopher Wylie has referred CA as an example of“modern day colonialism”that worked extensively in India and globally undermined democratic processes across the world. Recently, India came up with its own Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018. The bill sought to distinguish personal data protection from the protection of sensitive data, since its processing could result in greater harm to the individual. According to the bill, personal data is defined as any data which can be used to identify an individual directly or indirectly. Also, under the bill sensitive data is defined as any data which is related to intimate matters where there is higher expectation of privacy i.e. caste, religion and sexual orientation of the individual. Even before the Cambridge-Analytica Scandal, India had been facing campaigns by privacy activists against Government’s Aadhaar project.However, the government has consistently argued that Aadhaar does not collect on what you purchase etc. its core database of biometrics is secure.Now, it becomes important that there must be a system where a minimum amount of data is collected from the user and they were informed about the reason for collecting that data. India needs to fast-forward its own privacy law that deals with issues of data leak.

[1]Davies, Harry (December 11, 2015)."Ted Cruz campaign using firm that harvested data on millions of unwitting Facebook users".the Guardian.
[2]Cadwalladr, Carole; Townsend, Mark (March 24, 2018)."Revealed: the ties that bind Vote Leave's data firm to controversial Cambridge Analytica".the Guardian.
[3]Staff, Forbes (March 30, 2018)."Cambridge Analytica trabajó con el PRI: Channel 4 News • Forbes México"
[4]Murillo, Javier."Cambridge Analytica, sigan la ruta del dinero"
[5]Peinado, Fernando; Palomo, Elvira; Galán, Javier (March 22, 2018)."The distorted online networks of Mexico's election campaign"
[7]Coulter, Martin."Find out if your Facebook data was shared with Cambridge Analytica". Evening Standard.
[8]Kozlowska, Hanna (April 4, 2018)."The Cambridge Analytica scandal affected 87 million people, Facebook says".Quartz.
[9]Horwitz, Josh (April 5, 2018)."Outside US, Philippines saw most Facebook user data go to Cambridge Analytica".Quartz.
[10]Nieva, Richard (June 13, 2018)."Most Facebook users hit by Cambridge Analytica scandal are Californians". CNET.

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