What the Cambridge Analytica Data Breach Means for Social Media

Facebook is constantly gathering our personal data. They record what we like, what we share, what pages we visit, and make assumptions on what we would like to see in relation to all of that information. Facebook even classifies you under certain political categories to provide you with ads they think you will enjoy. Recently, it was discovered that a ginormous amount of data was improperly obtained by the data firm Cambridge Analytica, then sold and used to create voter profiles for the 2016 Presidential Election. As many as 87 million Facebook users were affected by the data breach, most in the United States. As you can imagine, Facebook users aren’t too excited about their information being sold for political gain and election manipulation. In turn, the data breach has its implications.

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How It Works

By creating an account on Facebook you're allowing the company to collect data about you and your interests. Remember that disclaimer you signed way back when? Whether you share funny posts, watch sad videos, or react to something on your feed, Facebook records all of it. They keep a record of your activity and use artificial intelligence and algorithms to make up your profile, so they can fill your timeline with things they think you’d like to see most. A lot of third party websites allow you to sign in with Facebook, as opposed to creating an entirely new account. This is pretty nifty, because who wants to remember a ton of different usernames and passwords, but Facebook has agreements with these websites that allow them to track your data on their websites as well. Think about all of the websites you've accessed with your Facebook profile. Yikes. Signing in through Facebook might make your life a little easier, but it's making Facebook's life easier too.

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What Happened

Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm based in London, uses data to strategize for political campaigns and elections. They began collecting information from Facebook users back in 2014 and used this data to influence voter opinions in favor of politicians who paid them for access to this information. Christopher Wylie, a previous employee at Cambridge Analytica, was the one who blew the whistle on the data breach and provided all the details as to just how big the data breach was and what kind of information was stolen from Facebook. The breach started when Aleksandr Kogan, a data scientist at Cambridge University, designed an app called thisisyourdigitallife and gave it to Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica then created a survey that was published on Facebook, and due to Facebook’s design, the app was able to collect all of the personal info on the users who took this survey. Additionally, the app was allowed access to friends of the users who took the survey. Only about 270,000 people had actually consented to their data being released, while the others within the 87 million were completely unaware of the survey and its future implications. Cambridge Analytica then sold this information to politicians, who consequently used it for their election campaigns. Candidate Ted Cruz was just one of the many politicians who utilized this information to direct political propaganda to a specific target audience.

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What Happens Now

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has released statements through his social media platform regarding the steps they’re taking to ensure user safety and privacy. Facebook has added a new Privacy Shortcuts section in their app to provide users easy access to all of their information and who can view it, use it, etc. This does not mean that we are miraculously safe now. The Facebook data breach served as a huge wake-up call for many and shed light on just how much information we share digitally on a daily basis. Though social media may make our lives easier and allow us to connect with people in ways we never could before, it is always important to be careful and make sure your information does not get into the hands of the wrong people. As for Facebook, this data breach may be a new beginning or the beginning of the end. Time will only tell.