Fresh calls have been made for Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg to explain why the personal data of up to 50 million users has been accessed and stored by an outside company with links to Donald Trump’s election and politically-fuelled campaigning.
Following damning reports by The New York Times and The Observer over the weekend, Facebook has been embroiled in a political scandal that exposes the technology supergiant as allowing for a major global data breach that spans back several years.
So far, fingers have been pointed to the data breach occurring in 2014 when an academic named Aleksandre Kogan, originally ‘harvested’ Facebook user’s information through an app that provided a personality test whilst gathering information on the user’s Facebook friends. Though it has been alleged that this information access was obtained legally and was willingly provided by users, Kogan’s company, Global Science Research, then had an agreement to disclose data to Cambridge Analytica, however, the latter in fact took a majority of the data without authorisation.
It is this London-based company, marketing itself as using ‘data to change audience behaviour’, that has been accused of using the sensitive information of over 50 million Facebook users and applying that data to build a software programme that influences voting choices. The data itself was also gathered by Cambridge Analytica at the cost of $7 million, is has been reportec by The Guardian. In another exposing report, whistleblower Christopher Wylie has further pointed out the company was ‘hijacking the profiles of millions of Facebook users’ whilst also possessing proof from ‘Facebook’s own lawyers admitting that Cambridge Analytica had acquired the data illegitimately’.
In what appears to be a cross-intelligence investigation, involving a number of news agencies, Channel 4’s documentary even captured recordings of Cambridge Analytica boasting about former dodgy dealings relating to political campaigns in an undercover sting. Through conversations with the company’s executives, it was suggested they could ‘speak to the incumbents and to offer them a deal that’s too good to be true and make sure that it’s video recorded’ and also ‘send some girls around to a candidates house’, all whilst working ‘in the shadows’. The corruption surrounding this company amplifies global concerns about their access to personal information and how this was used in campaigns.
Both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have denied any wrongdoing however it was late on Friday night that Facebook announced it was suspending the data company Cambridge Analytica from accessing it’s platform, shortly before news of the breach broke.
This isn’t a spy movie. We’re a data analytics company doing research & analysis on commercial, public and data sets for clients 7/8
— Cambridge Analytica (@CamAnalytica) March 17, 2018
Although Facebook have said they have launched an investigation into the issue, Cambridge Analytica’s links to Donald Trump’s campaign as well as ties to Brexit and a variety of other worldwide political movements brings into question Facebook’s pivotal relationship with political decisions. A key Trump supporter, Robert Mercer, has been ousted for donating $15 million funding to the data analytics company and as well as receiving support from Steve Bannon, Cambridge Analytica claim to have polled votes in seventeen American states and used online advertising to sway the political decisions. On top of this Downing Street have voiced new concerns about the handling of personal data and look to review legislation surrounding online information in the wake of fears that technology companies are growing quicker than anticipated and thus not providing sufficient focus upon meeting regulations.
The weekend has unravelled in a bout of increasingly bad news for Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg. At the time of writing, Facebook stocks had plummeted by 5% (a loss of $27 billion) as the data revelations bring into question the bigger picture of data safety on the internet platform.
Mark Zuckerberg may not have to answer to anyone, but if the calls from politicians, customers and shareholders intensify, he may come to realize that it's in his best interests to do so. $FB down 8% today. My story. https://t.co/6DqZtp2nVm
— Paul R. La Monica (@LaMonicaBuzz) March 19, 2018
It is yet to be understood exactly how much personal data Cambridge Analytica have gained access to, however in order to understand quite how much data Facebook stores on each user it requires a simple download from the site’s security page to be provided with pages upon pages of personal data, likes, photographs and statuses. It’s a somewhat terrifying revelation.
Noted as one of the biggest data breaches Facebook has faced so far, this story is far from over as the question of security delves ever deeper amidst the intricacies of technology and personal security. Though it has been claimed that Zuckerberg doesn’t have to answer to anyone, if his platform is further proven to have had such a politically fuelled, and potentially illegal contribution, then it might be time for the CEO to emerge from the cyber sidelines and defend his company.