Cambridge Analytica And Facebook

Post date: Mar 23, 2018 2:15:31 PM

On March 22, 2018, Amanda Jayatissa checked her application permissions on Facebook. She did so in the wake of a major news story - a data firm, having used the private information of millions of Facebook users to build personal profiles of them, and sell them on to third parties.

As Amanda found, the revelations made in the wake of Cambridge Analytica have implications for all of us. An app she had downloaded for Calvin and Hobbes quotes also gained access to her political and religious views. Another leak came from a surprising quarter – the iPhoto app, which gleaned not just her personal interests and her hometown, but her friend’s interests, hometowns, personal descriptions, shared photos and videos, and educational histories.

“I don’t remember ever signing into iPhoto using Facebook. I generally use iCloud for that. I don’t remember agreeing to any of this. My friends, whose privacy I have unknowingly put at risk, have definitely not agreed to this,” she said.

Amanda's reaction is not unusual. As Nalaka Gunawardena pointed out in an interview with Ada Derana, "Inadvertently, without thinking too much through it, many of us disclose our key personal data when signing up [for third party apps]."

Some Background

According to an article by the Guardian, Cambridge Analytica and specifically Christopher Wylie, a data scientist there, came up with a plan to harvest data from Facebook profiles from millions of American voters. From there, psychological and political files could be created of them, and political ads tailored to target and manipulate them.

Researchers from Cambridge Analytica simply asked users to take a personality survey via an app, which also harvested private information from their profiles and, significantly, their friend's profiles. Facebook has since banned this practise, though it was allowed in 2014.

According to the New York Times, as many as 50 million raw profiles were given to Cambridge Analytica - only 270,000 of them had consented, and even they were told the data would be used for "academic purposes".

A documentary on Channel 4 revealed much about Cambridge Analytica’s inner workings. The reporter posed as a Sri Lankan election agent,. During the discussion, it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica offered a host of services, including, if needed, deliberately entrapping candidates.

In the follow-up segment, it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica had also been involved in the US election. Analytica’s representative contended that much of the smear campaign on Hillary Clinton online was thanks to their work. He also spoke about digging deep into unconscious hopes and fears, and how these could be used for manipulation.

Meanwhile, WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton tweeted that it was time to delete Facebook. As stock prices for the company plunged, Zuckerberg issued a statement on Facebook, committing to an audit of all apps that used personal information, removing access to personal data for a user if an app hadn’t been used in 3 months, and ensuring easier access to the existing tool allowing a user to control what personal information is shared with the apps being used.

Several people have pointed out that some of Cambridge Analytica's claim to be able to manipulate elections could be largely sales-patter; in that simply using the data gleaned from a personality quiz wouldn't be enough to predict individual political orientation. The Guardian also pointed out that the problems of racism, misogyny and other social issues that plagued America predated the advent of social media. However, the story raises wider issues of privacy on social media platforms - it highlights how easily people will give personal information away and what it could, potentially, be used for by unethical companies.

What if I Don't Want To Delete Facebook?

Below, in Amanda’s words, is how to access the tool to control what information you share when you download an application on Facebook, until they make it more publicly accessible.

“Click the little arrow on the top right of your Facebook page, and go to Settings. On the left, you’ll see a tab for Apps, so click on that. You’ll see a list of Apps that are logged in with Facebook, thereby giving them access to certain information. If you click on each individual App, it’ll show you what this information is. If you do feel uncomfortable with the access that some Apps have, there will be an option to remove the App (it’s right at the very bottom, in very tiny letters). In the future, especially when you are signing up for something, consider actually filling out the form rather than lazily hitting the “sign up with Facebook” button (as I have always done if the option was presented), and if you do, make sure you read exactly what you are giving them access to.”

The Settings section will also give you access to a separate ‘Ads’ section, where you can restrict what information you’ve allowed Facebook to access for targeted ads. Click on “Your Information” and de-select any information you would not like to share with Facebook for advertising. You can also limit the audience who can see social actions paired with ads, or hide ad topics you don’t want to see. Learn more here.

The “Data Detox” Kit by Tactical Technology Collective provides detailed instructions on how to control the data that you share not just on Facebook but also via Google and through your phone. “The Complete Guide to Facebook Privacy” on Wired also has good tips for Facebook, as does Facebook’s own “Privacy Basics”.