First it was the Russian involvement through buying of political ads, and now it looks like the 2016 US Presidential Election involving President Donald Trump has just been made murkier with Facebook’s data breach.
It turns out that Cambridge Analytica, a UK-based data analytics firm headed by then Trump’s key advisor Steve Bannon, had gained access to about 50 million Facebook profiles without authorisation back in 2014. This information was used to influence voter behaviour during the election, through extremely targeted campaign moves decided based on psychographic information of American voters. These involve micro-targeting of digital ads and fundraising appeals, strategizing where Trump should turn up to speak to voters.
While this casts a shadow over the ethics of our favourite right-wing leaders, people are also directing criticism at Facebook. Facebook maintains that it was not a “breach”, because the data had been harvested in accordance with its regulations. However, it was inappropriately handed over to Cambridge Analytics by Researcher Aleksandr Kogan, who had built the app that harnessed the data in question.
Why does this matter?
How do we start to hold powerful data analytic and social media companies accountable? Should there be tighter regulation on personal data can be used for?
These are many questions that we, as avid social media users need to start asking ourselves. This matters, because our personal information, when put into the wrong hands, could be used to sway less-than-discerning users about key political issues in distasteful ways. In this case, the data breached has been used to wage a cultural war among voters in 2016, segmenting them further into camps using divisive messaging and controlling the kind of information people see on social media.
In the wake of this, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, mentioned in an interview with CNN last week, “I am not sure we shouldn’t be regulated”. Is it time now to check the powers of our tech giants?