Readers of seven British and three American newspapers woke up to an apology by Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg in form of a full-page advert. “We have a responsibility to protect your information. If we can’t, we don’t deserve it,” the ad stated. In the ad, which appeared on the back page in most newspapers, Zuckerberg said, “…This was a breach of trust, and I am sorry.”
Why was world’s most popular social media platform sorry? What did it need to issue an apology? What caused a storm at Facebook’s California (CA) headquarters? Well, it was CA – Cambridge Analytica, this time – that caused the storm, leading to not just the apology in newspapers but also outrage over Twitter, a micro-blogging website, with as #DeleteFacebook began trending. Some of the prominent people, including WhatsApp co-founder, Brian Acton, deleted Facebook. (Facebook bought WhatsApp for $16 billion in 2014.) The shares of Facebook dropped, the personal net worth of its CEO (Zuckerberg) fell, too.
The trouble began on March 17, when Christopher Wylie, 28, revealed that British political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica had harvested 50 million Facebook profiles, the majority without consent, for use in political advertising. To be more precise, CA used the data to to psychologically profile people and deliver pro-Trump material to them during the 2016 US presidential election campaign.
World’s most powerful social media network got into the soup over its alleged failure to protect data of its users. In the newspaper ads, Zuckerberg conceded, “This was a breach of trust and I’m sorry we didn’t do more at the time. I promise to do better for you.”
The genesis of the row is in 2014, claimed Wylie, the whistleblower of this data privacy scandal. In 2014, Facebook invited users to find out their personality type through a quiz developed by Cambridge University researcher, Dr Alexsandr Kogan, called This is Your Digital Life.
Data of about 270,000 users was collected, but the app also collected some public data from users’ friends without their knowledge. This data was sold to Cambridge Analytica, Wylie claimed. However, Facebook said Dr Kogan sold the data to the British firm without its knowledge.
Some news outlets have quoted Dr Kogan as saying that he was told by Cambridge Analytica everything they had done was legal, and that he was being made a ‘scapegoat’ by the firm and Facebook.
Data mining companies are looking out for big data that they can analyse, especially for advertising and political campaigns. Some tech experts feel the CA storm could cost Facebook at least 100 million users.
Soon the data privacy scandal reached over across the Pacific as reports of India’s principal opposition, Congress, having hired the London-based firm for its election campaign. However, there are conflicting reports about CA’s activity in India with both major national parties indulging in a blame game.
Supreme Court in India is already hearing petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act 2016. Officials of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) – which maintains biometric data of Indians who have an Aadhaar number – have told the five-bench constitution bench that there’s been no “breach of biometric data from our end”.
Even as India’s top court is yet to decide on validity of Aadhaar, Indian users of Facebook – much like users elsewhere – are deleting their Facebook accounts. But there’s much more to be found out in the scandal, which runs much deeper than it is now appearing. In UK, where Cambridge Analytics is based, Facebook is in legal and regulatory issues but in India, where the social media network has the maximum number of users, people are still trying to figure out how privacy of data affects them.