Facebook has been in the news for all the wrong reasons ever since media reports alleged that a data-mining firm called Cambridge Analytica acquired private data harvested from more than 50 million Facebook users to support Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign. Cambridge is alleged to have also played a role in in other elections around the world, with Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Wednesday questioning if India's Congress party had any ties to the company, a charge the Rahul Gandhi-led party has denied.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica controversy.
On Saturday, The Observer of London and the New York Times cited former Cambridge employees, associates, and documents to say that the firm harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission.
Facebook says it learnt in 2015 that the data had been misused, but it was only on Friday - a day before the reports were published - Facebook said it was suspending the data analytics firm. Facebook said it had earlier asked the company to delete the user data it had collected, but it had recently learnt that it had failed to do so.
Cambridge allegedly got this data from Aleksandr Kogan, a University of Cambridge psychologist, who had requested and gained access to information from 270,000 Facebook members after they chose to download his personality prediction app, a Facebook-based quiz app.
The Facebook members gave their consent for Kogan to access information such as the city they set on their profile, the content they had liked, as well as some limited information about friend groups and contacts. In passing this information to Cambridge, Kogan broke Facebook’s policies, and Facebook has suspended his account as well.
A former Cambridge Analytica employee said the app would have given Cambridge access to information on the friends of each of those people, a number that media reports said reached 50 million. As of now, there’s no way of finding out if your Facebook data was involved.
The data was used by Cambridge to target the delivery of political messages in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, according to a whistleblower. A source told The Observer and the New York Times that at leat part of the data Cambridge collected has still not been deleted.
Cambridge Analytica is a data analytics firm with political and marketing divisions, and offices in New York, Washington, London, Brazil, and Malaysia. In a video sting broadcast by UK’s Channel 4 News, Cambridge CEO Alexander Nix is seen boasting that his data-mining firm played a major role in securing Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential elections.
Facebook has drawn criticism for its alleged inaction to protect users’ privacy. US and European officials have called for Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to explain how personal information of Facebook users ended up in the hands on Cambridge.
WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton - who joined Facebook when the app was bought by the social networking giant in 2014 but left the company last year - has joined calls to #DeleteFacebook in the wake of the controversy. After a decline of nearly 7 percent on Monday, Facebook’s stock closed 2.6 percent down on Tuesday.
Cambridge was funded by Trump supporter and hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, and former Trump senior adviser Stephen Bannon once sat on its board. The company, which began working for the Trump campaign in June 2016, promised that its so-called “psychographic” profiles could predict the personality and political leanings of every adult in the United States.