March 18, 2018 at 07:03AM, The Guardian
The revelation that 50 million people had their Facebook profiles harvested so Cambridge Analytica could target them with political ads is a huge blow to the social network that raises questions about its approach to data protection and disclosure.
As Facebook executives wrangle on Twitter over the semantics of whether this constitutes a “breach”, the result for users is the same: personal data extracted from the platform and used for a purpose to which they did not consent.
Facebook has a complicated track record on privacy. Its business model is built on gathering data. It knows your real name, who your friends are, your likes and interests, where you have been, what websites you have visited, what you look like and how you speak.
It uses all that data to make it super easy for its customers – advertisers – to target you.
On the other hand, Facebook very much wants to keep that data – its competitive advantage – to itself, and so guards it carefully. Facebook has yet to face a major hack like Yahoo, Equifax or LinkedIn.
So protective is the site of its user data that it makes it very difficult for scholars to study its impact on society.
Unfortunately for researchers, the newly reported misappropriation of data is likely to make that even harder. The 50m user profiles were harvested by a Cambridge University researcher, Aleksandr Kogan – separately from his work at the university – but passed to Cambridge Analytica for ad targeting purposes – a violation of Facebook policies.
“This is about a company breaking Facebook’s terms of service and going rogue,” said Sarah T Roberts, a UCLA assistant professor of information studies. “That’s a pitfall that will exist no matter what policies are implemented. Read more