I don’t really know where to start with this… No doubt you will have seen recent news reports regarding Facebook, their sharing of your data and an organisation called Cambridge Analytica or you will have heard plenty people claiming it’s time to “delete Facebook”.
If you haven’t and are blissfully unaware, head here: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/data-war-whistleblower-christopher-wylie-faceook-nix-bannon-trump
Now, I do not wish to defend Facebook nor to convince you not to delete your Facebook. But the media and social frenzy that’s going on right now is currently missing a few key points and following this current trend is going to do nothing to help improve your online data privacy. In fact, it may make it worse…
I do want to share a few key points that matter and help frame the bigger picture as I can see it. In doing that, I hope to help stop any negative frenzy and keep peoples attention and focus on those answers we all deserve from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.
Social Media, Data and Targeting
I use social media and digital platforms to reach, engage and advertise to specific target audiences. I have helped a variety of organisations from oil and gas, retail, fashion to social good, all through appropriate targeting and content via targeting advertising.
Since this story broke, I have received several calls and taken part in several online discussions and debates. I have concerns from clients and friends that everything is compromised in one way or another. Whilst that is far from the truth, they are rightly concerned and in some cases wrongly “deleting Facebook”.
Lots of us working with digital and social platforms do so morally; holding ourselves to a code of conduct that spans from the services we use to the law itself. We don’t have people’s private information, nor do we want it. We want to reach and engage with people who matter, who want to be reached with information that matches their interests and behaviours. We have no interest in leveraging or negatively influencing you as a consumer or person. We never want to manipulate and we certainly do not want to reach people who are not interested.
It’s rare, but yes, some of us can be a power for good…
But that is now being questioned, it’s a dark and dangerous space, the Wild West of advertising. It’s not. There are bad eggs everywhere in this world, we all know that but the way this story is being consumed and shared, it simply isn’t right and it isn’t helping. So I thought it best to clear a few important points up about what is and isn’t going on.
Now, this is a huge story. An ongoing story. A complex story. One of people, privacy, politics, big business and a lot, lot worse. I’m not talking to the scale of an episode of “House of Cards” here, I am talking about a whole series!!!
But I’m not going to discuss that story. Other agencies exist for that but it’s very much worth your attention.
Now, buckle up… things are about to go to 11.
What is going on…
News recently broke that reported Cambridge Analytica acquired and harvested the private information from millions of Facebook users without their permission and that Cambridge Analytica used this data to target and influence individuals for their clients gain including the US Presidential Election. Focus of this story has been on Facebook and how Facebook gave this information to Cambridge Analytica.
Whilst this is certainly a headline and attention-grabbing angle, it buries the lead.
Firstly, whilst Cambridge Analytica did acquire this information from Facebook, they did not buy it and Facebook did not simply give it to Cambridge Analytica.
This information was acquired via the Facebook API (Application Programming Interface), the means by which apps and service talks to to the Facebook Platform. Prior to changes in April 2015, users who authorised third party apps to access their Facebook profile also willingly, but perhaps not fully consciously, gave these apps access to some of their personal Facebook profile data. This contained a variety of public (and some private) information such name, email, age, sex, the Facebook Pages you liked and more. At the time, this would also provided similar information from your friends too, without their expressed permission.
Whilst this information was and is controllable by Facebook users in the Privacy Settings, it wasn’t altogether known as behaviourally people aren’t that great at comprehending their own privacy implications, let alone that of their ‘friends’.
This action gave Cambridge Analytica a suite of personal information from your Facebook Profile and unfortunately that of your friends. Subtly and importantly, Facebook did not simply give or sell anyones data. This data was acquired by Facebook in a means that anyone who read Facebooks policies and terms (the thing you are suppose to do when you sign up and regularly thereafter) would know about. A means via their developer program that is applied and measured.
Cambridge Analytica would then take this data and along with the other data received directly by all these people filling out online surveys and questionnaires, they ended up with a wonderfully healthy dataset of peoples likes, interests, views, leanings, etc.
When Facebook identified that Cambridge Analytica were pulling a lot of information from the Facebook API, and allegedly they did know, Facebook contacted Cambridge Analytica for breaching their API terms. Cambridge Analytica responded that this was all for research purposes, an act allowed under Facebooks terms, and things continued.
Yes – Facebook had an opportunity to stop the data breach. Cambridge Analytica lied, and Facebook believed them.
When it was finally identified that Cambridge Analytica had lied to Facebook, Facebook ordered Cambridge Analytica to delete all information. Cambridge Analytica said they did, and Facebook believed them.
Whilst simplified, this is a huge failing on Facebook’s part. Their actions were not good enough and allowed a situation where one commercial organisation could begin to steer change across communities countries and nations. One that absolutely needs to be answered and has begun with a statement from Mark Zuckerberg.
“I wish we’d taken those steps earlier … That … is probably the biggest mistake that we made here.” – Mark Zuckerberg
Additional changes are coming and that is a good thing. If Facebook are to rebuild people’s trust and information, they have a lot to do. Whether they achieve this or in what form, that remains to be seen.
The other story here is how Cambridge Analytica illegally took a dataset from Facebook, convinced people to provide additional information and then used this information against people via psychographical messaging and fear, across digital media for their own and their clients personal and professional gain.
There’s a good thread here from @saradannerdukic on Twitter that’s worth your attention, which looks deeper into Cambridge Analytica and Facebook: https://twitter.com/saradannerdukic/status/976125179049988097
This is less Wild West and a lot more Blofeld. It isn’t about digital ads, targeting or retargeting at all, it’s about the abuse of personal data and perverse actions at Cambridge Analytica.
No, I’m not joking. As I said, “House of Cards” level stuff – https://www.channel4.com/news/exposed-undercover-secrets-of-donald-trump-data-firm-cambridge-analytica
So please, follow this story, share you concerns and speak with those around you familiar with what’s going on. Take this moment to remind yourself of your privacy settings and knowledge of it across digital media, review all of your privacy setting and protect yourself and friends from big business and importantly those manipulators like Cambridge Analytica.
For Facebook you can review privacy settings here: https://www.facebook.com/settings?tab=privacy
… and you can review what apps have access to your profile data here: https://www.facebook.com/settings?tab=applications
Whilst my phone continues to ring with concern from clients and friends alike, I will keep sharing. I’ll be following and learning more as this progresses and bring my technical knowledge of platforms and technology to cut through the misinformation and nonsense.
If anyone has alternate information or insight, please do share.