Imagine if someone could make an algorithm that could predict how you act, think or even talk. Now think about how someone could do this simply based on your social media activity, not requiring a single in-person encounter to predict any of these things. This has been proven to be possible for years now, but was the most apparent during the 2016 presidential election.
Prior to this election, the Trump campaign hired Cambridge Analytica to help assist in gaining voters especially from swing states. Cambridge Analytica was a software company from England that used technology to predict and sometimes purposely alter voter behavior to then use it to their advantage, in this case, for Trump’s campaign. Cambridge Analytica had been pulling people’s personal data from Facebook for years so they had an enormous amount of information on approximately 87 million Facebook users.
This gave them the ability to pick and choose which ads could best persuade those who they wanted to target for his campaign. They broke down each major swing state into each individual county in order to pick out who the “persuadables” were so that they could then target with the most effective ad.
In 2018, Cambridge Analytica was forced to declare bankruptcy after most of this information became public and people started realizing what had happened to them. During the peak of this scandal in 2015-2016, a reporter for the Guardian named Carole Davies released an article sharing how Cambridge Analytica had collected data on millions of Facebook users to then create profiles for these people. These profiles were said to be manipulated into choosing Donald Trump through the use of propaganda among other things. For example, the slogan “Lock Her Up”, referencing Hillary Clinton, was liked and shared by millions of people on Facebook which helped in gaining support for Trump.
Since there was so much going on in the news, most Americans did not pay real attention until around 2018. This is what sparked multiple investigations into Cambridge Analytica as well as the people involved in the company, particularly the CEO Alexander Nix.
In light of what happened, many countries, including many in Europe, began developing strict regulation laws in regards to data privacy. Consent is the basis for most of these laws because without consent, any social media company using or attempting to use personal data can face legal trouble. There are exceptions in which consent laws can be legally avoided. One example is if you enter into a contract in which you grant permission for someone to use your private data. Another exception is if the information is critical to protecting the public or an individual and thus the private data needs to be shared. Finally, if the information is of reasonable interest such as a bank checking credit worthiness. Under the GDPR, the EU’s data protection authorities can issue fines of up to $20 million or 4% of worldwide turnover depending on which is higher.