The Facebook Scandal: Explained!

The social-media giant, Facebook has been facing a huge protest since Cambridge Analytica scandal news came out. The scandal had adverse effects on company’ stock. Facebook lost a total market cap of a whooping $50Bn after the scandal.

In today’s post I’ll try to explain the whole incidence through the technology perspective, how Facebook works, and how Facebook advertisement system works.

First of all, what is Cambridge Analytica?

Cambridge Analytica is a privately-held company founded in 2013 that runs data-driven political & commercial campaigns. The company is run by Alexander Nix (CEO) & Robert Mercer. It has offices in London (Headquarter), New York, Washington DC, Sao Paulo, & Kota Damansara. It’s parent organization is SCL Group, a British behavioral research and strategic communication company.

Also, before proceeding on how the Facebook business model works, the following statement is released by Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Cambridge Analytica has also responded to all the controversies and news (click here). Now let’s get started.

Data mining by giants

Do you ever experienced an incidence when you’re a chatting about something, searching for it, and talking about it with friends, and then the products starts popping-up in your news-feed and also on other websites & search engines. This is what you pay for using a “free” service, your personal data. This is not just Facebook, but every other technology giants such as Google, Amazon, etc. These companies provide the services without any upfront payment from the consumers because their business model is consuming the consumers or in other words you’re the product that these companies sell, and by you, I mean your personal data.

In most of these cases, these data is solely used for advertisement. But in this particular case, the user data was used to launch targeted campaigns to shape voter’s opinions.

Predicting User’s Personality

Cambridge Analytica reportedly breached 50Mn user data to analyze them the problem is much bigger. One of the Facebook’ product is targeted ads which kind of does the exact same. Facebook itself is mining user data to know you better. Through ‘targeted ads’ anyone can target a specific group for example, if I want to sell a book on philosophy, the most relevant buyers will be people having interest in philosophy subject. Facebook can easily predict your interest in philosophy based on your activities on the platform and then target you ads of books on philosophy.

I started using a chrome extension/firefox add-on few months back called Data Selfie. The extension tracks you while you’re on Facebook, maps your data traces and shows you what machine learning algorithms can predict about your personality.

NOTE: The project is open source and your data traces are stored on your personal device and not on a remote server.

As stated earlier, this is not just with Facebook but every other company providing you free online services. And now we come to the conclusion.

Should you be worried?

The answer is yes. You should be worried about all these companies collecting your data, storing it, and analyzing it to predict your personality. But at the end, it all comes down to personal preference and mutual trust between you and the company. Of course, all the companies have user agreement to not share the data with 3rd party but it’s isn’t always true. For example, Facebook generates user’s personality and provides a platform for advertisers to target us ads. They’re not sharing our data with the advertisers but the advertisers are reaching us with creepy ads indirectly.

Again, mutual trust is very important if this is the case. Let’s understand this in a simple way. Do you need an instant messaging service which is also a platform to share pictures? Then you may consider Instagram or Facebook (both owned by Facebook Inc). Now, do you trust Facebook with your data? If answers to both questions are yes. Then you may use Facebook or Instagram.

Also, I’d like to mention that Facebook did acquired WhatsApp but the service is end-to-end encrypted so user data is safe and cannot be used for mining intentionally or UN-intentionally.

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