If it isn’t one thing, it’s another.
On Tuesday March 20, the Federal Trade Commission began an investigation into Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm that accessed the data of approximately 50 million users of the social media dominant, Facebook, in order to profile voters in the 2016 presidential election. With scandals like this, it can be difficult to chronologically break down everything that’s occurred. So maybe this will help.
We’re all familiar with those personality quizzes that pop up on our Facebook feeds. The ones that will ask what your favorite food is and based on that they will tell you your spirit animal? Turns out, these quizzes are not as harmless as they appear. A researcher by the name of Aleksandr Kogan created an app with these personality quizzes in June 2014. It just so happens that this app was awfully similar to another personality quiz app that was developed by a laboratory at Cambridge University, where none other than Kogan himself worked. The app was downloaded by about 270,000 people, and not only did it grant access to their Facebook accounts, but those of their friends as well.
But wait, there’s more. Instead of immediately deleting that information, Kogan provided it to Cambridge Analytica in order to make “psychographic” profiles for voters, according to The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer.
Here’s where it gets really juicy, and concerns the leader of the free world himself. One of Cambridge Analytica’s board members is Rebekah Mercer, co-owner of the right-winged website Breitbart News. Her father, under the advisement of his political consultant Steve Bannon, subsequently invested 15 million dollars in the consulting firm. Not only was Bannon Trump’s White House Chief Strategist for the first seven months of his presidency, but he is also the co-founder of (you guessed it) Breitbart News, of which Bannon himself has referred to as, “the platform for the alt-right.”
So what was this “psychographic” information used for exactly? Apparently, to fulfill a number of political agendas through the use of online ads. These included the Brexit “Leave” campaign, along with the presidential campaigns of both Ted Cruz and President Trump, respectively.
With more information still to come, it seems that there are still many unknowns regarding this scandal, including the impact this will most certainly have on Facebook. Five days after the investigation launched and its stock value had dropped by nearly 50 billion dollars, Facebook issued public apologies through newspaper ads. Signed by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the ads read, “This was a breach of trust, and I’m sorry we didn’t do more at the time. We’re now taking steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Zuckerberg is set to testify before Congress this month. In the meantime, the rest of the world is left questioning their own online security more than ever before. And rightfully so. This isn’t the first breach of data security the online world has ever faced, and it certainly won’t be the last. Just ask Yahoo and eBay. Yet in the case of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, not only has the privacy of millions of devoted social media users been compromised, but so has their right to their own opinions.
We are taught at an early age that there are certain things you don’t have to talk about if you don’t want to, and politics is one of them. In this case, people’s views were exploited and used for the benefit of an administration that has arguably done more harm than good in the past 15 months. And the worst part? This is an issue that will probably just be recognized as another Trump screw up, part of a number of scandals that may one day be equivalent to the number of people affected by the breach itself.