How over 50 million Americans had their data stolen without their permission.
I’m willing to bet that you have at least heard of “The Great Hack“. The great hack started back in the 2010’s when Facebook users’ data was collected by a British company, Cambridge Analytica. This company collected personal data belonging to millions of Facebook users without their consent.
According to the Netflix documentary, this information was primarily used for political advertising through an app called “This is your digital life” which consisted of a series of questions in order to build psychological profiles on users and collected personal data of the users’ Facebook friends. This app harvested the personal data of 87 million Facebook users and was even used to provide assistance to the 2016 presidential campaigns of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.
Facebook made sure to prohibit the selling of the data collected but Cambridge Analytica sold the data anyway. The company purchased the data of tens of millions of Facebook users data to build a “psychological warfare tool” to help elect Donald Trump as president. In 2013, two University of Cambridge researchers published a paper explaining how they could predict people’s personalities and other sensitive details from their freely accessible Facebook likes. These predictions, the researchers warned, could “pose a threat to an individual’s well-being, freedom, or even life.” Cambridge Analytica’s predictions were based largely on this research. Two years later, in 2015, a writer named Carole Davies who worked for Guardian reported that Cambridge Analytica had collected data on millions of American Facebook users without their permission, and used their likes to create personality profiles for the 2016 US election. However, in the heat of the primaries, with so many polls, news stories, and tweets to dissect, most of America paid no attention.
For years, Facebook has used third parties to collect the data of its users and in 2012 CEO Mark Zuckerberg even said that he did not think that data leaks would be a threat to the company. The main issue with the Cambridge Analytica case was that they illegally gathered the data of millions of people through an app and then extracted the data out of their friends on Facebook without their consent.
While Facebook had involvement in this issue, Cambridge Analytica developed the app “This is your life” where hundreds of thousands of Facebook users agreed to complete a survey for payment that would only be used for academic use. This however did not go according to plan as Facebook allowed this app to not only collect the users’ personal information but the data of the users’ friends on Facebook as well. This process allowed Cambridge Analytica to gather the data of millions of Facebook users. It was even released that Ted Cruz paid the company $5.8 million dollars in services to help his election.
According to the documentary, in 2018, ex-employee Christopher Wylie came forward and exposed everything that happened. In 2019 the Federal Trade Commission voted to approve fining Facebook 5 billion dollars and with a 3-2 vote this was one of the largest penalties ever assessed. Again in 2019 Facebook agreed to pay 100 million dollars to settle with the US securities and exchange commission for misleading investors.
The reason I find this case so interesting is because of how involved social media is with our lives. It is crazy to think that something we use every day without even realizing it can be building profiles on us and selling our data behind our backs while we have no idea what is going on or what that data will be used for. I believe that this case was a huge surprise to everyone and will ensure that nothing like this ever happens in the future.