This week, the world was shocked when news came out that Facebook and data company, Cambridge Analytica, was involved in a scandal where they allegedly mined the data of its users in order to direct political messages to them.
So what exactly happened?
Co-founder of Cambridge Analytica, Christopher Wylie, recently came out to accuse Facebook of being complicit in the data mining of 50 million users.
Wylie worked on crafting Facebook advertisements for Donald Trump during the campaigning period in 2016.
He claimed that Facebook had knowledge of a quiz app that was being used to mine data for political purposes and that it did not shut it down. Rather, they let them go on for two more years.
How did they mine the data?
In 2015, Cambridge academic Dr. Aleksandr Kogan created an app called “thisisyourdigitallife”. This app got users to answer questions in order to profile them psychologically.
However, he then took this data and shared it with Cambridge Analytica without the permission of the users.
Wylie claimed that Facebook was aware of this, the social media giant claimed that they had been assured that the data had been destroyed in 2015.
Paul Grewal, Facebook’s vice president and deputy general counsel, said:
“All parties involved — including the SCL Group/Cambridge Analytica, Christopher Wylie and Aleksandr Kogan — certified to us that they destroyed the data in question,”
What was the data used for?
Once Kogan had the data, he shared it with Cambridge Analytica.
The company in turn used the data to build a software that would help influence choices in any election such as Brexit and choosing the next US president.
Wylie has claimed that Cambridge Analytica used the data to develop highly specific profiles of people and to then deliver pro-Trump messages to them when they went online.
Cambridge Analytica, however, denied this despite allegations that the team met up with Trump “many times” and that they had been largely involved in helping Trump’s campaign in 2016.
What is Facebook going to do about it?
In light of recent developments, Facebook has suspended all parties involved and they are working to make sure that all the data acquired is deleted and that action is taken against the offenders.
“In light of new reports that the data was not destroyed, we are suspending these three parties from Facebook, pending further information. We will take whatever steps are required to see that the data in question is deleted once and for all — and take action against all offending parties,”
They are also working on granting users more control over the personal information they share and are working to make sure this never happens again.
Why is this important?
This scandal is particularly shocking because it is unclear how much influence this data had in swaying massive decisions such as Trump’s election and Brexit.
But beyond that, social media users are now in a frenzy as they wonder just how safe their data is and if they have been conned by fake news in the past.
Many people have been trying to delete their Facebook accounts and in doing so, have found that the process is much more complex then simply clicking ‘deactivate’. This has led to more people wondering just how much of their personal data is out there and how easy it would be for someone to access it.
What can you do?
Deleting your social media accounts is a drastic step. Unless you are truly worried about your safety (or if you need to break your addiction), deleting them is unnecessary.
However, here are some things you can do to protect your online data as well as to protect yourself from fake news and unauthorised data mining.
The first and most obvious way to protect yourself would certainly be to switch all your accounts to private and limit access to your profile.
While this doesn’t deter the most skilled of hackers, it could be key in giving you an additional layer of protection when it comes to your personal information.
2. Be careful with location tagging
Location tagging is everywhere. From Instagram and Facebook who give you the option of checking in to Snapchat who silently follows you and displays your location to everyone who follows you.
Don’t allow it. Comb through your settings and turn them all off.
While location tagging may be fun, it is certainly not worth it if that information gets into the wrong hands.
Additionally, never check in at places such as your home or workplace.
3. Do your research
Before you take any quiz, survey or even sign up for a newsletter, double check. Always make sure that the site you are giving your information to is legitimate and that they aren’t trying to scam you.
Besides using your own judgement, you could always google the company and check if anyone else has had problems with them in the past.
The same thing applies to fake news. Don’t believe anything and everything you read. Cross check first.
Above all, be safe online. The Cambridge Analytica scandal provides a poignant reminder to us to be aware of what we are putting up for the world to see. Make the effort to understand and protect yourself.
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