The Cambridge Analytica scandal has rocked the world and captured the attention of media organizations across the globe. The complicated and tangled web of relationships and deals which have underpinned this whole ordeal makes for a complex story. In fact, given the relevance of the story to all of us in today’s society, it is a shame that more people don’t fully understand what has occurred.
The Quick Version
The most condensed version of events that we can offer is this – somewhere in the region of 87 million Facebook users, as well as an unspecified number of their friends who were not signed up to the service, was misappropriated by a researcher who worked for Cambridge Analytica. The reason that this is so significant is because Cambridge Analytica worked for the Trump campaign as a consulting service.
As well as the unauthorized use of data, there have been hints of other scandals. For example, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, reached out to Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks and broad supporter of Donald Trump. Nix offered Assange information about the existence of emails which had been stolen from hacked Democratic National Committee servers.
The entire scandal has made many people more conscious about the security of the data and information that they put online. If you are wondering about your own data in the wake of the scandal, Secure Data have a number of relevant articles on their blog.
The Trump Connection
The consulting firm Cambridge Analytica was founded by the conservative mega donors Rebekah and Robert Mercer, as well as Trump’s ex-chief strategist, Steve Bannon. Upon the firms founding, Bannon was appointed as its vice president and during the 2016 election he reached out to the Trump campaign and acted as the middle man between the two sides.
Where Did the Data Come From?
The big question throughout all of this has been where Cambridge Analytica got its data from, and to what extent Facebook is complicit in the collection and dissemination of that data. Some have suggested that Facebook has known more about events than they have let on.
It seems that in this case, a researcher by the name of Aleksandr Kogan was the one who siphoned off the data and passed it on to Cambridge Analytics. Kogan obtained the data by making a simple quiz for Facebook users to take. Not only did this quiz in fact collect user data, it also gathered data from friends of those who took the quiz.
This has exposed a serious loophole in Facebook’s API, while those who took the quiz initially may have given permission for their data to be harvested, their friends had their data collected whether they consented or not.
What this scandal means for the future remains to be seen. In the short term, at least, it has greatly increased awareness of the importance of data security and of keeping our personal information private. There was a time when anonymity was one of the main features of the internet. Today, people are more than willing to reveal their real identities when online.