Is there such a thing as smart social media use? A method for utilizing online resources without compromising one’s personal information? In 2018, it seems that the best way to assure privacy is to opt out from social media and internet use altogether. On March 21, 2018, Mark Zuckerberg posted on Facebook to address the political data firm Cambridge Analytica’s “alleged misuse of 50 million Facebook users’ data,” according to WIRED. Zuckerberg’s account of the situation reflects that the scandal stretches all the way back to 2013, when Cambridge University researcher and scientist named Aleksandr Kogan created a personality quiz app.
According to Zuckerberg, he and others at Facebook learned in 2015 that Kogan had shared data from his app with Cambridge Analytica. Zuckerberg writes in his post that “It is against our policies for developers to share data without people’s consent, so we immediately banned Kogan’s app from our platform and demanded that Kogan and Cambridge Analytica formally certify that they had deleted all improperly acquired data.” He then shares that in the week prior to his post, Facebook learned from The Guardian, The New York Times, and Channel 4 “that Cambridge Analytica may not have deleted the data as they had certified.”
Cambridge Analytica is not just any political data firm. According to WIRED, it was also “a vendor to President Trump’s 2016 campaign.” The company has offices in London, D.C., and New York, and its stated functions as a privately held LLC are, briefly, according to Wikipedia, to combine data mining, “data brokerage, and data analysis with strategic communication for the electoral process.” It was founded specifically to participate in American politics, as an offshoot of its British parent group, SCL.
According to Wikipedia, the family of Robert Mercer, “an American hedge-fund manager who supports many politically conservative causes” and investor in Breitbart News, partly owns the company. An article on Politico reports that Cambridge Analytica worked on Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign as well. “Many companies compete in the market for political microtargeting, using huge data sets and sophisticated software to identify and persuade voters,” according to an article in The New York Times. This article goes on to discuss Cambridge Analytica’s claims to have developed “‘psychographic’ profiles that could predict the personality and hidden political leanings of every American adult.”
Could Zuckerberg be involved with facilitating data leaks to these external companies? Privacy advocates and Trump critics, according to this New York Times article, seem to think so. They warn of “a blizzard of high-tech, Facebook-optimized propaganda aimed at the American public, controlled by the people behind the alt-right hub Breitbart News.”
Contrary to Zuckerberg’s statement, Aleksandr Kogan stated in a CNN Tech article that he believes that Facebook is using him as a scapegoat for the scandal. “Using users’ data for profit is their [Facebook’s] business model,” he claimed. He does not believe that he violated Facebook policy. Kogan did, however, reveal that he was working with Cambridge Analytica. These combined statements from Zuckerberg and Kogan, as well as the political affiliations in this data management, say a great deal about the security of personal information in the present. There are few ways, apart from going as far as encryption, to ascertain the security and privacy of personal information in the present day.