Anyone who is fairly in-the-know about tech news, or even global news, has read at least something about the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal. And like many others, especially those who use Facebook on a daily basis to promote their businesses, you’re probably wondering (besides what in the world happened) what this means for you on a personal level and even on a moral level.
The fact is, there are a lot of different opinions floating around the web; some biased and some unbiased, that have left me –and I’m sure many others – wondering what this means for me and the work that I do. What I’d like to do in this article is help to outline the facts that I have gathered from my research, and share my understanding of how Facebook plans to proceed from here on out.
First, I think it’s important to acknowledge and establish the understanding that there is a reason why Facebook is free: because they are generating essentially all of their income from advertisements. This leads me to my second point: there is also a reason why Facebook is one of the most powerful advertising platforms out there – because it is essentially a collection of over 2 billion monthly users who are consistently providing data to the platform, which allows it show to our ads to people to whom they are relevant.
This is incredibly powerful. One, because it allows small marketing budgets to obtain effective results because they’re not wasting their time (or money) on showing advertisements to the wrong people; and two, it limits us from seeing advertisements that are not relevant to us which limits the saturation of unnecessary advertisements in our feeds. Up until now, Facebook advertising has been a tool that digital marketing agencies and business owners have used on a very consistent basis with almost no public outcry or government interference.
Okay. Yes, Facebook is my friend with it comes to affordable digital marketing. So what is the deal with Cambridge Analytica?
In order to explain this effectively, it’s important that you understand the timeline of events:
It all begins on April 21, 2010; when Facebook launches Open Graph, a platform that allowed third-party applications to gather data on Facebook users by requesting permission to access their personal profiles. The thing about this, is that they were also able to access information on these users’ friends. As you can see, this opened the door for massive data harvesting.
So this goes on for a number of years, until a smartie-pants from Cambridge by the name of Aleksandr Kogan, and his company called Global Science Research, launches an app called “thisisyourdigitallife” in 2013. The app is said to have paid around 300,000 users to answer questions pertaining to their psychological profiles, and then also gained access to their friends’ profiles. This resulted in the company being able to gather and harvest data on millions of Facebook profiles.
Okay, that’s a little scary…
Yes, Facebook thought so too. So in 2014, Facebook changed its rules and prohibited third-party apps from gathering data on a users’ friends’ information without permission. Although, it didn’t apply enough to pressure on Kogan to delete all the data he acquired before the rule change until December 2015, when it was learned that he violated his agreement with Facebook by essentially selling this data to political candidates including Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. Although Kogan and other elections agencies claimed the data had been deleted after being legally pressured by Facebook, the damage had been done. Millions of users’ data was being used to affect the U.S. Presidential campaign, and is also said to have played a huge hand in the U.K. Brexit vote.
This is where the simple business advertising platform went wrong. This was no longer business advertising. This was first-handedly influencing a presidential election. Whether Facebook was completely aware of what was going on is still unclear. Mark Zuckerberg definitely claims that he was unaware of the gravity of the data usage, and has released what seems like very heartfelt public apologies accepting responsibility for not having done more to protect users’ data from malevolent third-party platforms. This leads one to believe that the third-parties were acting on their own accord.
Right, so does this mean I should stop using Facebook?
Absolutely a personal decision. In my personal opinion, questions surrounding Facebooks’ acquisition of data have been floating around for years now. But it was undeniable that the platform’s astoundingly powerful targeting techniques were extremely convenient for business owners to target their audiences. They had data that no one else had, and it seemed that they weren’t using it to do any harm to anyone.
Facebook has recently announced that they will be making lots of changes to their policies to avoid having their data ever affect a situation as huge as a presidential campaign again. The data will be limited to digital marketing, which is what it was intended for in the first place. Some of these changes include prohibiting app developers from accessing data from users who have been inactive for 3 months, and reducing the amount of information third-parties are able to request. They have also motioned that they will look to audit all apps who may have accessed large amounts of data before policy changes in 2014.
We live in a digital era. Where technology and the transfer of information is shifting and evolving on a daily basis. Yes, it was Mark Zuckerberg’s responsibility to protect us from malevolent platforms who could use our data to unfairly manipulate us (it’s also worth noting that his own data was among the data that was used by Cambridge Analytica). But we, as users, also need to understand that as a collective human race, we are all consistently learning new things about technology and its capabilities, this includes Facebook and its team.
Ultimately, it’s up to each individual user to decide where this leaves them in terms of using Facebook and its affiliate applications. Here at Mijo! Brands, we recognize the importance of protecting data and believe that major policy changes should be made to prevent anything like this happening again. But we also recognize the power of Facebook in the way that it creates the opportunity for people to stay connected with their loved ones around the world, to have their voices heard on issues and current events, to discover new like-minded collectives, and the opportunity for businesses of all sizes to have access to effective marketing.
Sarah Rose Birge is a Community Manager, Blogger and English Editor with Mijo! Brands. A creative digital marketing agency with presence in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico City, and Guadalajara. Sarah lives in her little bubble of compassion and love for the planet. She studied Literature and Communications at Camosun College in Victoria B.C., and is presently working towards obtaining her Herbology and Natural Medicine certification in order to start her own practice. When she isn't spending her time geeking out in the digital world, tending to her plants, or reading books on natural medicine, you can find her running barefoot with her pups, looking up delicious new vegetarian recipes to try, or trying (and failing) to reach whatever is on the top shelf.