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,2016 UK’s Brexit
referendumand 2018 Mexican General Elections for Institutional Revolutionary
Party.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.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 peoplewere affected by the data leaked out of
which 70.6 million people are from United States.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.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
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.
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