Facing Up To Responsibility

Cambridge Analytica and Facebook have been thrown into the limelight for all the wrong reasons over the past week concerning a potentially unlawful use of personal data to influence the 2016 US election. But what exactly has happened? And why is it such a big deal?

What’s happened?

There’s been a lot of confusion over what has actually happened and the fact that everyone involved is pointing the finger at anyone but themselves doesn’t help the situation. But it appears that an app created for Cambridge Analytica harvested data as part of a digital personality quiz. Personal data was collected from people who took the quiz, but other information that they might not have been aware of was harvested (or mined) from their profile. Information about their friends on Facebook was also harvested. The company have been accused of using the data they’ve collected to build psychological profiles of individuals in America in order to promote personalised fake news stories to them through Facebook and other social media channels while working on the promotion of Donald Trump during his 2016 election campaign. In doing this, there is a lot of suspicion that this may have caused individuals to vote a certain way in the 2016 US Election.

Now there are so many concerning things that have come to light over this scandal. Cambridge Analytica could have majorly affected the political landscape in the US, based on nothing more than made up stories. But aside from that, and with GDPR fast approaching, the security of personal data online has been brought to the forefront of everyone’s minds. Take away the regulations surrounding the use of the data, and you are left with the ethical argument to consider. Time to break out a favourite quote of mine – ‘You were so preoccupied with whether or not you could, you didn’t stop to think if you should.’

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How did they get the data?

The data was mined back in 2014, and many developers took advantage of how easy it was to manipulate Facebook’s privacy policy. At the time, the policy did not allow for any personal data collected by authorised apps to be shared with unauthorised third-parties. While Cambridge Analytica were authorised to see the data, they were not authorised to share it with Donald Trump’s election campaign team. Not only did it breach the privacy policy, it breached the DPA and would breach the new GDPR legislation coming into effect on 25th May.

Facebook claim they demanded the data was deleted and not used by any third-parties, and now both them and the UK Information Commissioner want to know if it really was deleted as Cambridge Analytica have claimed. A whistle-blower has informed the world that the data was not deleted and used to influence the Trump election campaign.

Can you realistically protect your data?

#DeleteFacebook has been all over Twitter in the past few days encouraging people to do exactly what the hashtag says and many are jumping on the bandwagon. To make another Jurassic Park analogy, the velociraptor is out of the cage and now everyone is panicking. However, deleting your Facebook page isn’t going to delete the data they have about you, and because we live in the digital data age it is inevitable that your data will be used in some way by someone. The difference is whether it’s used ethically.  At the moment, everyone involved in this scandal is, in some way, to blame. Cambridge Analytica for abusing their access to the data and using it in such an unethical way, and Facebook for not having the best privacy policy to protect its users.

It’s understandable that people are concerned about what companies are doing with their data now that these allegations have come to light. Here are a few tips to help you protect your online data-self:

  • Take a look through your Facebook security settings. You can update who can and can’t see your personal information quite easily from there. It’s worth checking these regularly and making sure they’re up to date.
  • If you need to log into your Facebook page to use an app be aware that the app will likely be collecting your data.
  • If you want to know what data Facebook holds about you, you can download this from the General Account Settings tab. It isn’t comprehensive, but it will give you a general idea of the types of information the company keeps about you. Please be aware of the security risks of keeping a document with personal data on your computer, especially if you share it with someone else.

While Facebook is in the eye of the storm at the moment (and it’s likely its competitors will be under heavy scrutiny in the weeks to come) social media is still a powerful tool that businesses can’t afford to abandon completely.

Elastic won’t help you to manipulate an election. But we can absolutely harness the power of social media to help you promote your brand to your target audience. Get in touch if you would like to find out more about our fully integrated and elastic approach promoting your brand.


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