Cambridge Analytica Scandal : Everything You Need to know

8 Min Read. |

Internet data security issues have been around for a while now and the Cambridge Analytica Scandal brings to fore the systematic flaws in maintaining user-data privacy by large tech companies. As a user of Facebook, I would certainly be concerned if my personal information is being used by a third party app just because I filled in a survey or answered a few questions on Facebook.

What is the Cambridge Analytica Scandal?

Cambridge Analytica, a Data Analytics company has been reported to have used Facebook user data to for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in the United States. The data breach was exposed by a former CA employee, Chris Wylie.

The incident was initially reported by a British TV broadcaster Channel 4. The Chief Executive Officer of CA, Alexender Nix has been suspended following the report. The news confirmed that the data of 50 million Facebook users were used to run microtargeted political campaigns during US Presidential elections. Out of these 50 million people only 270, 000 people gave consent for the use of their information. Cambridge Analytica obtained the data from Alexender Kogan the founder of an app called ‘thisisyourdigitallife’. The app got Facebook users to share their personal information by participating in a personality quiz.

About Cambridge Analytica

The research and analytics firm is known have been set up with the help of Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist of Donald Trump. The company was formed in the year 2013. The firm was funded by Robert Mercer who is reported to be a major donor to Republican campaigns.

Cambridge Analytica’s Current Stance

As a data scientist, I deeply believe in fairness and transparency in the way data is collected and processed. I am sorry that in 2014 SCL Elections (an affiliate of Cambridge Analytica) licensed Facebook data and derivatives from a research company (GSR) that had not received consent from most respondents. – Dr. Alexander Taylor, acting CEO Cambridge Analytica

The acting CEO also confirmed that the company is undergoing a third-party audit to understand whether there is still any third-party data with the company. He clarified that company believed that the data was being used in accordance with Facebook’s data protection laws.

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Facebook’s Stand

Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has taken responsibility for the situation and has promised to make changes to the platform.

First, we will investigate all apps that had access to large amounts of information before we changed our platform to dramatically reduce data access in 2014, and we will conduct a full audit of any app with suspicious activity. We will ban any developer from our platform that does not agree to a thorough audit.

We’ll require developers to not only get approval but also sign a contract in order to ask anyone for access to their posts or other private data.

said Zuckerberg in a Facebook status.

Facebook has recently confirmed that the number of Facebook users whose data was shared with Cambridge Analytica was in-fact 87 million ( and not just 50 million as mentioned above). After this confirmation by Facebooks’s founder Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s share was down further by 1.4 percent on Wednesday 4th April’18.  The Facebook stock is down by a total of 16 percent since the scandal broke out.

Video: The Star Online

According to more recent reports, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced senators and the American television audience answer some tough questions, this Tuesday, 10th April 2018.

“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry,” the co-founder and CEO of Facebook, uncharacteristically wearing a suit, said in his opening remarks. “I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here,” said Zuckerberg before the Senate Committee.

Facebook’s founder had to answer some very tough questions including whether he usually gets to know about such discrepancies after they have been published in the press. He had to answer questions related to drug sales on the platform and about what exactly is the nature of Facebook’s business etc.

The committee also accused Facebook of  “the wholesale invasion and manipulation of users’ right to privacy.”

The committee also talked about putting robust penalties in case of any future data breaches.

Some reports suggest that Facebook will now let you check whether your data was shared with Cambridge Analytica or not. Facebook will soon be showing a link  “protecting your information”. You’ll see a message on top of this link that tells you that your data was shared or not. 

In other reports, Facebook has been hit by a class-action lawsuit by US and British lawyers.

“The Plaintiffs as proposed representatives of the class are seeking minimum statutory damages of $1,000 per person or $71 billion based on information released by Facebook about the number of affected users,” said Richard Fileds the co-lead counsel on the lawsuit.

In the meanwhile, Facebook is also reported to be ‘looking into’ the possibility of taking legal action against Cambridge Analytica, Cambridge University, and Alexander Kogan.

Lawsuits Against Facebook

Since the revelation of the data breach, Facebook has been sued four times over by four separate individuals. The lawsuits have been filed by a Facebook user, two Facebook stakeholders an attorney from San Jose, California respectively.

The Anti-Facebook Conversations

In the meanwhile, the hashtag #deletefacebook trended on Twitter and Brian Action, one of the Co-Founders of WhatsApp also participated:

Cambridge Analytica Scandal

Brian Acton #deletefacebook tweet

Elon Musk, on the other hand, deleted the Facebook pages of both his companies – Tesla and SpaceX. He did this after having the following conversations on Twitter:

Cambridge Analytica Scandal

Elon Musk Facebook tweet

There are more companies which are unhappy with the scandal. Mozilla the producer of the popular web browser Mozilla also announced that it would pause all advertising on Facebook until the platform works on improving its privacy settings.

Mozilla presses pause on Facebook advertising

Cambridge Analytica Scandal

The consumer electronics giant Sonos also decided to pull off advertising on either Facebook or Instagram. The company is skeptical of all large tech companies and has also opted not to advertise on platforms like Google, YouTube, and Twitter, for one week.

Commerzbank, Germany’s second-largest bank also took a decision to pause Facebook advertising until any further update on the issue.

What are the Governments Expecting?

UK’s chairman of the parliamentary committee has summoned Mark Zuckerberg to explain the systematic failure because of which the data breach occurred. In the US, Facebook’s founder has also been asked by the Senate Committee to declare how he would ensure the privacy of its users. The Europian Parliament head has also decided on investigating the misuse of data.

Reactions from India

Back in India, law minister Ravishankar Prasad has warned Mark Zuckerberg and asked him to ensure no such incident occurs in India. In the wake of the scandal, the government is considering tougher privacy laws to ensure only the minimum amount of data is collected in online transactions and its use is clearly communicated as well – Justice BN Srikrishna’s draft will come out soon.

As per media houses the whistleblower, Christopher Wylie has also confirmed that CA has an office in India and has worked with the Congress party here. Earlier the Congress party had alleged that BJP has links with CA but the whistleblower has confirmed the Congress party was a CA client instead.

Cambridge Analytica Scandal

Congress party – a CA client

In the meanwhile, the Government of India has also issued a notice to CA and asked for a list of clients and data sources.

What are some of the Dangers of a Data Breach?

There can be quite a few dangers of a data breach for the users of social media platforms like Facebook. There’s quite a lot of personal information you are sharing on social media and you don’t want that information to be misused in any way. If any company is asking you to use your profile information, then they must tell you as to how they are going to use it and if or not they are going to share it with anyone else. If your data gets into the hands of hackers then your profile on one or more accounts could be hacked and misused.

How Can You Secure Your Online Data?

As a social media user, you should be aware of the places you are sharing your personal information. Make sure you are not sharing too much of your personal information such as your location or your birth dates with unsafe apps. You will have to carefully read the terms of data usage to understand the extent to which your information will be accessed and utilized.

You can also check your Facebook accounts for the apps you have been connected to, in the ‘App Settings’. You can then manage specific privacy-related permissions related to the app.

Cambridge Analytica Scandal

Managing app permissions

Image source:

You can also remove the app so it will not have any access to your Facebook information, going forward.

Another way to ensure that no other third-party app or site is using your Facebook information is to browse in Incognito mode. The option is available in most of the popular browsers.

You can also do away with all types third-party app logins and app integrations by turning off the feature in the ‘App Settings section of your Facebook account.

Cambridge Analytica Scandal

Turn of third-party integrations

Image source:

You can also make use of online tracker blockers like Ghostery and Disconnect to block some of the social networks that may be tracking you online. Lastly, it is not advisable to participate in too many free quizzes and online surveys that ask for your personal details or access to Facebook information.

Over to You

The breach of data privacy by Cambridge Analytica and Facebook is definitely a matter of concern for everybody who is using any social media platform. It’s reasonable that data will be used for advertising in some way or the other but third-party access to personal information is certainly a result of a big systematic flaw or poor strategy ensure complete data privacy.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Please feel free to share your opinion in the comments section below.

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  1. Bairapaga John

    I have been hearing this Cambridge Analytica for few days and read. But, I didn’t understand what they are writing on it. This article is simple, clear and I am able to read completely. Understood what Abhishek is telling. Thank You.

    • Abhishek Talreja

      Thanks, glad you found it useful:)


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