The Cambridge Analytica story has been widely misinterpreted, mostly by many is conservative media. This is not to say that there were nefarious intentions on their behalf, but it’s important to clear up a lot of noise surrounding this issue.
1 – The quizzes are not the scandal: The message that has been pushed is that Facebook did nothing wrong since there’s nothing inherently wrong with releasing quizzes on social media and collecting information based on the respondent’s answers, which means Facebook has no responsibility to stop it. This is untrue. The issue is that once one user took a Cambridge Analytica Quiz, the firm gained access to the information of all of the individual’s friend network.
This means that if you value privacy and chose to stay away from third-party apps, don’t use Facebook to log into other services and stay away from quizzes, but just one of your friends took a Cambridge Analytica quiz, then they would have gained access to your information.
2 – Yes, Obama did it, but it’s still nefarious: Considering that this message has been mostly pushed on a conservative audience, it’s curious to see Barack Obama being used as some standard for moral purity by claiming that his use of similar tactics somehow provides proof of ethical standing. Obama used these tactics, using one user to gain access to the entirety of data from that user’s network, and what Obama did was not right.
Another important point to make is that Obama’s quizzes were branded as Obama Campaign quizzes, whereas Cambridge Analytica quizzes were dressed up to seem more innocent, baring a resemblance to quizzes released by BuzzFeed. In the scheme of gaining access to the data of individuals who themselves did not take the quiz but have a connection who did, this point does nothing to justify the tactic, but it does bear some weight when it comes to the respondents themselves knowing what their information will be used for.
3 – Facebook had supposedly ended this practice: There was notable concern that a third-party could gain access to people’s information without their consent, so Facebook said it would stop allowing third-party apps and alike to access an individual’s network.
When it comes to what Cambridge Analytica was able to collect it is clear that Facebook either did not end the practice entirely or made an exception for this particular firm.
4 – Facebook has the right to use your data, not give it away: By using “free” platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, the user must understand that their data is their payment to the platform, and this unspoken agreement is nothing that should turn heads, but the contract is between the user and the platform and selling off that information is immoral. This argument may seem illogical, but it is one thing to allow advertisers to target using tools created by Facebook that algorithmically matches ads to users, and another is for Facebook to give all of the information on a user to a third-party.
In the former case, the information contract is not breached since Facebook does not turn over their users’ information, rather it just targets them based on the characteristics the advertiser is looking for. In the latter, users’ information is not targeted while being kept confidential, it is handed over in its entirety to an unauthorized party.
Deputy Editor, The Unshackled
Host of the Front and Center Podcast