On 16th March, Facebook announced that Cambridge Analytica was suspended from the social network for using data collected improperly from Facebook users. Let me take a rundown of the facts of the case:
What is Cambridge Analytica?
Cambridge Analytica is a British data analytics firm that provides insights into consumer or voter behavior. It was started in 2013 as an offshoot of the SCL Group. On a marketing side, it means they help in audience segmentation and provide targeting options. Political parties avail these services to target voters based on their interests and behavior.
How did they get so much of data?
It began in 2014, when researcher Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian American who worked at the University of Cambridge started a Facebook Quiz App. The app was called “thisismydigitallife” which was based on the Big Five Personality Traits. When users took the quiz, they gave permission for API to access multiple data points from Facebook. They matched the personality of people with that of their Facebook features. Example: Very Neurotic people may tend to have fewer friends on Facebook, but maintain closer relations, providing more support.
It not only took data from your profile, but it also extended to your friends too even if they authorized. This was a loophole in the Facebook Graph API which many third-party applications leveraged. In this way, Facebook exposed data of 50 million Facebook users although 270,000 people gave the quiz.
What did Facebook do about it?
When Facebook learned in 2015 that Dr. Kogan’s research had been turned over to Cambridge Analytica, violating its terms of service, it removed Dr. Kogan’s app from the site. It said it had demanded and received certification that the data had been destroyed.
But, it was found that the data was not destroyed and Cambridge Analytica has been using the data.