This seems to be the age of scandals! Factual or false, or a combination of both rule our news when they break. In recent weeks, the social networking giant Facebook has been plagued by yet another scandal from the Cambridge Analytica. However, this is not the first time the social media company has embroiled in controversy.
The scandal in a nutshell: The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal involves the collection of personally identifiable information of up to 87 million Facebook users without their knowledge or consent that Cambridge Analytica began collecting in 2014 via the personality-quiz app “This Is Your Digital Life” – and then enlisted that to inform voter-targeting strategies for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Facebook later limited the data apps can access, but it was too late in this case.
Cambridge Analytica (CA) is a British political consulting firm that combines data mining, data brokerage, and data analysis with strategic communication for the electoral process. The company partly owned by the family of Robert Mercer, an American Hedge-fund manager, started in 2013 as an offshoot of the Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) group. The data collected so far is claimed to be used to influence voter opinion on behalf of politicians who hire them. In March 2018, the New York Times, The Guardian, and Chanel 4 news made a detailed report on the data breach with new information from the Cambridge Analytica employee turned whistle blower Christopher Wylie, who provided clearer information about the size of the data breach, the nature of the personal information stolen, and communication among Facebook, CA, and political representatives who hired CA to use the data to influence voter opinion.
Following the breach, Facebook apologized and experienced public outcry. Nevertheless, the backlash would not die down so easily. One of the most prominent risks associated with the controversy is the possibility that users will revolt, perhaps concluding that the free service is not worth the privacy cost, and delete or deactivate their accounts. If enough users did, that could put pressure on Facebook’s advertising business, as advertisers follow eyeballs.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees on Tuesday and it lasted nearly five hours. Zuckerberg answered questions on social network’s role in the 2016 presidential elections and how it handles data, how Facebook will handle future elections, whether it was a monopoly, and how it should be regulated. In response against the critics faced, Facebook CEO mark Zuckerberg defended by testifying that the Facebook demanded the maker of the quiz app as well as Cambridge Analytica to delete the data. The social network was also assured that this was done in 2015, but the data still exists. And Cambridge Analytica denies this. He also admitted that Facebook did not checked whether the data was erased after it made the request to Cambridge Analytica to do so and considered it as a closed case. Moving further, he apologised sincerely and admitted this to be one of the biggest mistakes in his 14-year-old service as the CEO. He also explained how Facebook is trying to alert its users through a tool on its Help Centre Page.
This informs users whether they were amongst those who were affected, if their data was shared with Cambridge Analytica by the “This is your digital life” app. To do so, one need to visit thie Facebook Help Centre Page titled ‘How can I tell if my info was shared with Cambridge Analytica?’, where the page clearly explains the process to check. A box is seen on the page, titled ‘Was my information shared?’. If not, the user will be informed that “neither you nor your friends have logged into ‘This is my digital life’. As a result, it does not appear your Facebook information was shared with Cambridge Analytica by ‘This is your digital life’.
But no matter what amount of damage control measures Facebook takes up, the Cambridge Analytica debacle has been the darkest chapter in Facebook’s 14-year history. The world has changed from the days when damage control meant that you cleaned up the mess, compensated the community and implemented safeguards to prevent future spills. The present climate features many heavy hitters in distress. Facebook is a gigantic business, and gigantic businesses have big responsibilities to the world. Facebook too, needs to show it is committed to restoring the trust of its users and avoiding any other future mishaps.