Facebook is facing scathing criticism following an exposé that data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica mined a whopping 50 million profiles from the social networking site to plan campaigns for 2016 US elections and Brexit referendum. The data leaks scandal has forced Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to concede that the right steps were not taken and that they needed to ensure this does not recur.
The scandal’s ripple effect is also showing up in India, where mainstream political parties, the BJP and the Congress, are trading charges with each other for using the services of Cambridge Analytica to influence elections. At the same time, the Indian government has warned Facebook against any attempts to interfere in the country’s electoral process. Here’s a look at top 10 developments in the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data leaks.
Mark Zuckerberg’s apology on the Facebook Cambridge Analytica leaks
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote a post on his personal page saying, “We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you. I’ve been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn’t happen again. The good news is that the most important actions to prevent this from happening again today we have already taken years ago.” The Facebook CEO admitted the company had made mistakes and that they needed to do more to check them.
Zuckerberg wrote the whole incident “was also a breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it. We need to fix that.” Zuckerberg also told CNN that he was ready to testify before the US Congress if needed.
What will Facebook do next for data protection
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says they will investigate all apps that had access to large amounts of information before the company changed its policies in 2014. Facebook will conduct a full audit of any app with suspicious activity and if something is found amiss, the developers concerned will be banned from the network.
Facebook will also look if other developers have misused personally identifiable information, and if true, the social network will ban them. Facebook will also remove a developers’ access to user data if someone has not used their app in last three months.
Indian government’s response to the Facebook data leaks
Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Information and Technology, said any attempts by Facebook to influence India’s electoral process through undesirable means will not be tolerated. “If need be, strong action will be taken. Let me make it very, very clear, we fully support freedom of press, speech and expression; we fully support free exchange of ideas on social media. But any attempt, covert or overt, by social media, including Facebook, of trying to influence India’s electoral process through undesirable means will neither be appreciated nor be tolerated,” Prasad said.
The minister added that the government could also summon Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg if needed. “Mr Mark Zuckerberg, you better note the observation of the IT Minister of India. We welcome Facebook in India, but if any data theft of Indians is done through the collusion of Facebook’s system, it shall not be tolerated. We have got stringent powers in the IT Act, we shall use it, including summoning you to India,” said the minister.
Cambridge Analytica and India connection
In India, BJP and Congress are accusing each other of having a connection with data firm Cambridge Analytica and its parent firm Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL). “Why is the Congress in love with such firms? My question to the party is whether to win elections, Congress will depend on data manipulation and theft of data? What is the role of Cambridge Analytica in the social media profile of Rahul Gandhi,” asked Ravi Shankar Prasad.
He added whether Congress would “depend on data manipulation and its theft to win elections.” He alleged that the controversial firm was in talks with the Congress party for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Meanwhile, Congress denied the charges that it was in contact with Cambridge Analytica. “Indian National Congress or the Congress president has never used or never hired the services of a company called Cambridge Analytica. It is a fake agenda and white lie being dished out by Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad,” said Surjewala. “BJP’s factory of fake news has produced one more fake product today. It appears fake statements, fake press conferences & fake agendas have become every day character of BJP,” he added.
Cambridge Analytica’s website mentions a 2010 case study for elections in Bihar where its client JD-U won 90 per cent of seats targeted by the firm. While Cambridge Analytica was officially formed in 2013, its parent company SCL had worked in India in partnership with a company named Ovleno Business Intelligence (OBI). The clients of OBI are BJP, Congress and Janata Dal (United), according to the website.
How did Cambridge Analytica got access to the data
Cambridge Analytica relied on a personality quiz on Facebook, which was created by a Cambridge University researcher named Alexander Kogan. The quiz called “this is your digital life” was taken by nearly 300,000 people, according to Facebook. Since the app illegally accessed data of the users’ friends, they managed to get access to nearly 50 million profiles. This was against Facebook guidelines. Kogan broke Facebook rules by sharing the data with a third-party, which was Cambridge Analytica in this case.
When was this Facebook data leak first discovered?
The fact that Facebook’s guidelines were being flouted by third-parties to create psychological profiles of users was first revealed in December 2015. The Guardian had reported in 2015 that the firm was using data of Facebook users to help the US presidential campaign of Ted Cruz’s, who was in the Republican candidate race at that point. The report had mentioned Cambridge Analytica and raised questions on the ethics of how they were collecting this data.
Here’s what recent reports on Facebook data leaks revealed
Both the Observer and New York Times put out detailed reports this month showing how the firm likely helped Donald Trump win the US Presidential elections and the Pro-Brexit side in the UK. Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower who worked with the Cambridge University academic has revealed key details on this whole system worked. He also told the Observer, that the firm successfully “exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them.”
The firm likely played a role in influencing elections in other parts of the world as well like Kenya, Indonesia, Thailand, etc. It has also been revealed that using the sophisticated data tools, the firm targeted swing voters with just the right messages.
UK Parliamentary Committee wants Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is being asked to testify by the chairman of the UK parliamentary media committee, Damian Collins. He said the committee has repeatedly asked Facebook how it uses data and that company officials have been misleading to the committee, according to a report by the Associated Press.
“It is now time to hear from a senior Facebook executive with the sufficient authority to give an accurate account of this catastrophic failure of process. Given your commitment at the start of the New Year to ‘fixing’ Facebook, I hope that this representative will be you,” he said.
US Senators call for Mark Zuckerberg to testify
In the US too, Democrats in the Senate called on Zuckerberg to testify. According to AP, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called Facebook’s latest privacy scandal a “danger signal.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar, who is Democrat from Minnesota also on the Judiciary Committee, wrote on Twitter, “Facebook breach: This is a major breach that must be investigated. It’s clear these platforms can’t police themselves. I’ve called for more transparency & accountability for online political ads. They say “trust us.” Mark Zuckerberg needs to testify before Senate Judiciary.”
Facebook suspends Cambridge Analytica, SCL group from its platforms
On March 16, Facebook in its official newsroom announced it was suspending Cambridge Analytica and SCL group from its platforms. The company said that it had known about data violations in 2015 when Kogan had passed on the user information to a third party, including SCL/Cambridge Analytica and Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies.
Facebook said it learnt recently not all the data was deleted. This came after Observer and New York Times had put out their detailed reports highlighting how the data was used to manipulate elections. “We are suspending SCL/Cambridge Analytica, Wylie and Kogan from Facebook, pending further information,” is what Facebook had said.