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In brief, Cambridge Analytica is a British political consulting firm, which uses online user data (like Facebook profiles), to construct profiles of subjects, which can then be used for what it calls ‘behavioural micro-targeting’; advertisements tailored to the recipient based on their internet activity. In 2016, Cambridge Analytica was contracted by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, as well as the ‘Leave EU’ campaign prior to Britain’s referendum to leave the European Union.

The controversy involving Facebook concerned how Cambridge Analytica was able to acquire 87 million profiles, seemingly without user consent. According to Facebook’s policy, user data may be provided to third-parties, provided it is for academic use. Cambridge Analytica was able to acquire this data through Alexander Kogan, a psychologist at Cambridge University, whose app ‘thisismydigitallife’ gave him permission to access the profiles of about 320,000 Facebook profiles, and all of their friends’ profiles. Because this original use of the data was allegedly for academic purposes, Facebook allowed it to occur. And when it became clear that Cambridge Analytica had obtained this data illicitly, Facebook requested that Cambridge Analytica simply delete the data.

After news of the scandal broke, Zuckerburg issued a statement, in part saying that the policies which allowed for the misuse of data were “a breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it.” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg also called it “a major violation of people’s trust”.

… continue reading “Facebook, Big Data, and the Trust of the Public”

Image: Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

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