THE ISSUE: The recent Cambridge Analytica scandal regarding leaked Facebook users' data sparked a #deleteFacebook movement. Among the thousands of conversations about online privacy and the rights of political campaigns to personal information, the editorial board presents two viewpoints.
The focus of the Cambridge Analytica scandal is on Facebook, as it should be.
Facebook’s policies regarding third-party applications allowed for this “major breach of trust.” The siphoning of Facebook users’ personal data into a political research organization technically was not a data breach or an illegal exploitation of users’ private information, and that fact is deeply unsettling. Facebook’s business model, which requires users to give up personal information in exchange for services, is at fault for the endangering the private profiles of at least 50 million users.
In addition to exposing the faults with Facebook’s business model, the Cambridge Analytica scandal exposed the ease with which actors could use Facebook in deceptive ways. Cambridge Analytica hired Aleksandr Kogan, a psychology professor, to build a personality quiz to gather personality data which could then be used to create highly sophisticated voter profiles. The people who took Dr. Kogan’s quiz had no knowledge that their answers would be used for political purposes. The lack of transparency is clearly one of the issues at stake here. The people who took the personality quiz thought their answers were only being used for academic purposes, when in reality, they were being used to create highly targeted political advertisements that were often deceptive.
Finally, the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandal has exposed a fundamental problem in the way Facebook’s third-party app platform works. For each person who took the personality quiz, Kogan, along with every other third-party app developer, gained access to the data of that person’s friends. This is part of how Facebook operates, integral to its third-party app platform. If you cannot stomach the thought of your friends unwittingly being part of some large data bank in the hands of some (possibly) bad actors, head to your privacy settings and turn off permissions for third-party apps.
The political wrangling over this scandal detracts from its point. Technology users of this age, a demographic of which I belong, feel powerless to challenge the modus operandi of tech behemoths like Apple, Google and Facebook that collect and store our personal information, leaving us wide open to manipulation and exploitation. Their business models depend on our personal information, and we surrender it without protest. We may feel powerless to their ever-extending reaches and their ever-deepening wells of our personal data, but we are not. We must push for the regulation of these businesses. We must, as consumers and citizens, demand that these companies not leave us wide open to manipulation and exploitation.