By now the details surrounding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica’s data breach should be pretty clear, with information on more than 50million social network account holders in the US ‘harvested’ by the research company during an academic study.
One of the main problems with this is that in addition to those directly involved with the study, i.e. those who gave their permission for the data to be collected, the software used also stored information about their online friends, who had not ticked the ‘Yes’ box.
Questions have naturally been asked about how this data was then utilised by Cambridge Analytica, which was founded by Steve Bannon, one of President Trump’s key advisors during the presidential election of 2016. Or rather one pretty serious question: Was the information used to try and win votes for The Donald?
At the moment the answer seems to be ‘No’, simply because the data wasn’t good enough, and lacked the details of that which had already been collected via the Republication National Committee voter files, and was ineffective in comparison with Facebook’s well-established political advertising platform. All good then?
Err, probably not. So what happens now?
People are not rushing to forgive or forget. The most recent US election has already been exposed on a number of occasions as shady at best, not least thanks to the impact of Russian troll farms and fake news.
President Trump’s decision to ignore his advisors by congratulating Vladimir Putin on his recent win of a new term in office is enough to paint a vivid picture of the strangely close relationship between the top dogs in America and Russia.
So what are people doing about it? The hashtag #DeleteFacebook has been trending on various platforms, articles about removing Facebook accounts completely are everywhere, as are those regarding how to get a clear picture of the other platforms with access to the information Facebook stores about its users.
$36billion has also been wiped off the value of Facebook on the stock market. And, so far at least, the network’s HQ seems to be in disarray when it comes to a clear response.
One thing is for sure, this is going to help reassure people in Europe that the forthcoming GDPR data laws, set to be introduced in May, are absolutely essential in order to help protect them from this kind of situation. Not that Cambridge Analytica’s use of information isn’t a major issue even without those new regulations.
Whether the game is really up for Facebook remains to be seen— this isn’t the first time it’s been battered by controversy. However, sentiment towards the network was already bad enough, issues prevail surrounding how Facebook can keep publishers and brands onside as organic reach plummets, and an ongoing lack of personal posts continue to prevent the network’s algorithms from learning about its users.
The point being, there needs to be some major changes made in Facebook’s overall attitude— which is currently something like ‘we’re too big to fail’— if it’s to be seen as taking privacy and offensive content seriously enough, and respectful towards the organisations that provide the network with content essential to its survival.