Facebook is easily the biggest social media platform that exists right now. With over a billion active users, Facebook blows its competition out of the water. Despite the fact that so many individuals use the app, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, has recently had to answer some questions for Congress at a Senate Judiciary Committee and Commerce Committee joint hearing concerning the privacy issues that Facebook users are subject to.
While it is not necessarily new information that Facebook gathers data from its users, the extent of the data mining is actually very alarming. Not only is Facebook able to track what users do on the app, it is able to see what you do when you leave the website and go throughout your daily business on the internet.
Although Facebook has been collecting user data since its inception in 2004, this scandal truly began on April 21, 2010, with the launch of a platform called Open Graphs. This was essentially an update that allowed third-party apps and other developers the opportunity to reach out to Facebook users asking to access not only their data, but their friends data as well.
Of course, there were disgruntled users, but Zuckerberg wrote an article for “The Washington Post,” and life went on. In 2013, Aleksandr Kogan created an app called thisisyourdigitallife. The app paid users to take a psychological test, but also mined an inordinate amount of data from not only their Facebook pages, but their friends’ too.
Although it is difficult to pinpoint an exact number, Kogan was able to access millions of users’ data with this app. Kogan’s company, Cambridge Analytica, is a massive part of the reason that Zuckerberg was asked to answer some questions for Congress.
Cambridge Analytica is a consulting firm originating in Britain that specializes in data mining, data analysis, brokerage and “strategic communication” for elections. Essentially, Cambridge Analytica is a company that makes money by watching you online.
Cambridge Analytica has been investigated in an inordinate amount of American scandals in the past five years. From the 2014 midterm elections, to involvement with Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and Donald Trump in the 2016 election, Cambridge Analytica has had their hand in the pot for just about every scandal in which the right has been involved.
In fact, Cambridge Analytica is being investigated for corroborating with Russia during the election in an attempt to spread Russian propaganda through microtargeting, which is essentially using the mined data to appeal to a specific group of individuals that have shown interests before.
All of this being said, the question Congress had for Zuckerberg is, “how could Facebook allow such a breach?” The answer was somewhat strange, as Zuckerberg claims it is not a breach, but that Cambridge Analytica simply violated the terms of service.
During his hearing, Zuckerberg did an excellent job of dodging questions and answering with hypotheticals. Some of the questions asked were actually fairly comical, such as Senator Orrin Hatch asking Zuckerberg just how Facebook would be able to continue to stay in business without charging the users.
Zuckerberg looked almost shocked and answered in an incredibly stoic manner.
“Senator, we run ads,” Zuckerberg said.
Other questions pertained to why Facebook did not just ban Cambridge Analytica in 2015 when it was first discovered that they violating the terms of agreement in the ways they collected user data.
Zuckerberg’s response to this was calculated as well, claiming that it was not actually Cambridge Analytica using Facebook in 2015, so they did not have anyone to ban. Honestly I am fairly perplexed as to how this was the case, but it seems that in 2015, Aleksandr Kogan was still running the show without using the business name of Cambridge Analytica.
Overall, the hearing was a farce. Zuckerberg apologized for the misuse of information, but did not have any particular fix that would make such a breach impossible in the future.
Part of the reason that Zuckerberg never felt obligated to let Facebook users know about the breach is because, in his mind, this was not a breach at all. The data was collected in the standard manner, but the third party collecting it simply misused the information.
When asked what other social network an individual could use if he or she decided against facebook, Zuckerberg had no answer–there is not another social network that does what Facebook does. Facebook has literally monopolized the social network market, so this kind of data mining will likely never end. It’s a depressing thought, but it’s also nice to keep in touch with your grandmother who lives in Mississippi.