The idea being discussed this time is “Platform,” and social media platforms play a significant role in modern society. However, sometimes they can also be controversial. This blog will explore the data breach incident between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica and how this event relates to data privacy, political manipulation, and the responsibility of social media platforms.
Facebook and Cambridge Analytica：
In 2018, a former employee of Cambridge Analytica named Christopher Wylie exposed in The ‘Guardian’ and ‘The New York Times’ the collaboration between Facebook and the data analysis company Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica illegally used an app called “This Is Your Digital Life” to acquire personal data from 87 million users (Isaak and Hanna, 2018). However, Facebook not only allowed this app to collect personal information from survey participants but also permitted the personal information of survey participants’ Facebook friends to be collected. Through this method, Cambridge Analytica obtained data from millions of Facebook users, including advertising responses, page likes, message permissions, and more related to targeted individuals. Therefore, for specific political activities, Cambridge Analytica could discern which types of advertisements were most effective in persuading their target audience to participate in particular political activities.
Data privacy issues:
This event raised profound questions about data privacy. Were users informed about the collection of their data? Did Facebook fulfill its responsibility to protect user privacy? Let’s delve into this issue in detail.
Many users were unaware that their data was being collected (The Guardian, 2018). In this incident, Cambridge Analytica collected user data through an app, but many users were not clearly informed about this. This raised questions about Facebook’s transparency and users’ right to know. As a platform for data collection, Facebook has a responsibility to ensure the security of user data. However, in this event, Facebook failed to effectively monitor and restrict third-party apps’ access to user data, leading to doubts about its data protection and regulatory responsibilities. Regarding regulatory agencies, they failed to detect and intervene in the data breach issue in a timely manner. This raised questions about whether regulatory bodies are sufficiently empowered to oversee social media platforms (Rory Cellan Jones, 2018).
Therefore, concerning the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica incident, I believe that data privacy is of paramount importance. This event exposed the risk of personal data being abused, triggering widespread attention and concern. Protecting users’ data privacy should be Facebook’s top priority, ensuring that their data is not accessed or misused without authorization. Additionally, governments and regulatory agencies should take measures to enact stricter data protection laws to ensure full protection of user privacy and to oversee and penalize violations. In the digital age, data privacy is a challenge that cannot be ignored, requiring continuous attention and effort to address.
Cambridge Analytica used user data to precisely target and tailor political advertisements to influence voters’ political views and behavior. This raised concerns about the impact of social media on the political process. For instance, Ted Cruz hired Cambridge Analytica to assist in his presidential campaign, gaining insights into his competitors’ strengths (Davies, 2017). Another example is Donald Trump‘s 2016 presidential campaign, where Trump used data to build psychological profiles of his target audience and then utilized ads to criticize his opponents, garnering support for himself (Lewis and Hilder, 2018).
Therefore, the issue of political manipulation in the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica incident is highly significant. This event involved the misuse of user data to influence elections and political decision-making, raising concerns about democracy and political transparency. Political manipulation can be achieved through precise ad targeting and social media dissemination, which can distort public opinion and disrupt the electoral process.
Addressing the challenges of political manipulation requires broad efforts, including stricter regulatory measures, transparent political advertising rules, and raising public awareness about the authenticity of information. Additionally, tech companies need to take greater responsibility and implement measures to prevent the abuse of their platforms for political manipulation. These issues require collaboration between governments, the tech industry, and the public to ensure the resilience and transparency of democratic systems.
Consequences of the incident:
This incident led to investigations by governments and regulatory agencies into Facebook. Facebook implemented a series of measures to enhance data privacy protection but also faced significant legal lawsuits and public scrutiny. In 2019, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission announced a $5 billion fine against Facebook for privacy violations . In 2019, Facebook agreed to pay a £500,000 fine to the UK Information Commissioner’s Office for exposing its users’ data to a “serious risk of harm.” (Staff, 2019) In May 2018, Cambridge Analytica filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the U.S. bankruptcy law (Richard Summerfield, 2018).
This event sparked widespread discussions and reviews of data privacy regulations. Multiple countries and regions enacted stricter data protection laws, such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). These regulations aim to strengthen the privacy protection of user data and standardize the ways data is collected and processed. Furthermore, it raised public awareness about personal data privacy, prompting more people to review their data sharing and privacy settings online. People have become more vigilant about how their data is used.
Data privacy improvements:
To prevent similar events from happening again, it is recommended that social media platforms strengthen data privacy protection measures, enhance transparency, and ensure that users have control over their data. Additionally, there is a need to raise awareness about data privacy protection in education. For example, people should learn how to protect their data on Facebook, such as using ad blockers to limit advertisements and closely monitoring applications, especially those that require you to log in with your Facebook account these apps often have extensive permissions and many are designed specifically to collect user data (bbc, 2018).
This event has provided an important lesson for Facebook and prompted them to take a series of improvement measures, driving technological innovation and developing privacy protection technologies, such as blockchain-based solutions, to enhance data security and privacy. For example，An evident example is their improvement in third-party application access permissions and data sharing policies. Facebook enhanced the access permissions of third-party applications through their API (Application Programming Interface), restricting developers’ extensive access to user data. They also tightened the scrutiny and regulation of applications to ensure compliance with data usage standards. Furthermore, Facebook should establish and adhere to ethical guidelines to ensure they uphold high ethical principles in data processing.
Policy and Regulation:
Governments and regulatory authorities need to enact stricter regulations to ensure that social media platforms comply with data protection laws and take harsh measures against violations. They can conduct educational and awareness campaigns to increase the public’s awareness of data privacy and digital literacy, enabling individuals to better protect their own data. Stricter rules should also be put in place to regulate political advertising, ensuring they are not used for voter manipulation. This includes transparency requirements and penalties for false or misleading advertisements.
Apart from the efforts of governments and regulatory bodies, there is a noticeable global trend in the growth of data privacy regulations. The successful implementation of GDPR has not only influenced Europe but has also spurred similar regulations worldwide. Furthermore, regulatory agencies play a pivotal role in ensuring that social media platforms adhere to these regulations, as exemplified by TikTok’s regulation in China.
Nevertheless, data privacy education has become increasingly vital, with responsibility extending beyond governments and regulatory bodies to active individual participation. Additionally, there are disparities in political advertising transparency policies among different countries, warranting international comparisons to identify best practices.
Ultimately, technology companies should recognize their responsibility in safeguarding data privacy and proactively take measures to enhance data privacy protection, thereby mitigating the risk of future data misuse incidents.
The Facebook and Cambridge Analytica incident highlighted the challenges social media platforms face regarding data privacy and political influence. Addressing these issues requires collaborative efforts from social media companies, governments, and users to ensure platform security and transparency.
Facebook and Cambridge Analytica: Data breach and political Manipulation © 2023 by JUNMIN LI is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
bbc (2018). Cambridge Analytica: Facebook boss summoned over data claims. BBC News. [online] 20 Mar. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-43474760.
Davies, H. (2017). Ted Cruz campaign using firm that harvested data on millions of unwitting Facebook users. [online] the Guardian. Available at:https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/dec/11/senator-ted-cruz-president-campaign-facebook-user-data.
Isaak, J. and Hanna, M.J. (2018). User Data Privacy: Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and Privacy Protection – IEEE Journals & Magazine. [online] Ieee.org. Available at: https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/8436400.
Lewis, P. and Hilder, P. (2018). Leaked: Cambridge Analytica’s blueprint for Trump victory. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/mar/23/leaked-cambridge-analyticas-blueprint-for-trump-victory.
Richard Summerfield (2018). Cambridge Analytica files for bankruptcy. [online] Financier Worldwide. Available at: https://www.financierworldwide.com/cambridge-analytica-files-for-bankruptcy [Accessed 27 Sep. 2023].
Rory Cellan Jones (2018). Facebook data – as scandalous as MPs’ expenses? BBC News. [online] 19 Mar. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-43458110 [Accessed 27 Sep. 2023].
Staff, R. (2019). Facebook agrees to pay UK fine over Cambridge Analytica scandal. Reuters. [online] 30 Oct. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-facebook-privacy-britain-idUSKBN1X913O.
The Guardian (2018). The Cambridge Analytica Files | The Guardian. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/news/series/cambridge-analytica-files.