The most valuable thing that companies that operate on the Internet possess is the information of the users. The safety of the same and the use that is made of it mainly concerns activists, but also politicians, especially in Europe. The companies try to extract revenues from this data , often only internally but, in others, they do business by selling them, giving them up, or allowing their access to them to third parties.
Facebook is the main social network on the planet and, precisely because of this, it has a large amount of information about its users and its habits. During the past months the image of the company has been damaged due to the hoaxes , the so famous false news, that spread through the social network during the US electoral campaign of 2016.
He has barely had time to recover from it when an even bigger problem has exploded in his face. This is also related to the 2016 election campaign and the election of Donald J. Trump as president, although the possible use of data obtained from the social network without the users’ consent to modify the meaning of their vote is also motivated.
Cambridge Analytica and the Donald J. Trump campaign
The problems for Facebook come from Cambridge Analytica, a company that is dedicated to combining data mining with its analysis , as well as the brokerage of data, with strategic communication for electoral processes . Part of this company is from the family of Robert Mercer, who is a major contributor to the Republican Party, champion of numerous conservative causes in the United States.
The company was created in 2013, being its parent SCL Group. In addition to participating in several elections in the United States also took part in the referendum held in Britain to leave the European Union, the so famous today brexit , which is causing headaches in the negotiations to leave the country.
During the race to the White House in 2016, the company convinced Steve Bannon , the infamous former adviser to President Trump and strategist of his election campaign, that they had the tools to influence the vote of voters , based on a profile of personality. The only downside is that they did not have the data to do what they promised, and that’s where Facebook comes into play, more or less.
If you do not have the data, snoop it
To get the data he needed, Cambridge Analytica tried to get hold of the data of an investigator, Michal Kosinski, who had created a personality test that could deduce user information based on the likes. Kosinski affirmed that, with 68 likes, he could know the race, his sexual orientation and the party to which he usually votes, with a precision of between 85 and 95 percent, depending on the parameter in question.
One of the collaborators at Cambridge Analytica, Aleksandr Kogan, was the one who tried to get the company to buy this data from Kosinski. Faced with the latter’s refusal, Kogan developed his own personality application for the company for more than $ 800,000. This was used by some 270,000 users and, thanks to how the Facebook APIs were at that time, they obtained information on their friendships, reaching the data of some 50 million users. Only users who used the application gave their consent
Obviously it is hard to assume that Facebook did not realize this leak of information. Faced with the complaint of a British media, The Guardian , that this information was being used in the campaign of Ted Cruz during the Republican primary in 2015, they proceeded to investigate the leak, confirming it although not acknowledging it publicly.
The stolen data must be deleted
The lawyers of the Facebook proceeded to contact the contractors of Cambridge Analytica, that is, to Kogan and his collaborators. In the letter sent to them they stipulated that the data had been collected without permission and therefore could not be used, and that they had the obligation to delete it. Both Kogan and Cambridge Analytica would have certified to the social network that they had eliminated such data, but this was not proven , so that its elimination would not have been done, or would only have been done in part.
The use of them, as well as their obtaining, would have contravened the agreements that signed with Facebook the development of applications. Under these agreements, the developers were committed to sticking to privacy restrictions for the data they obtained with the APIs. However, Mark Zuckerberg’s company did not rigorously apply these requirements, something that helped them grow rapidly in the first years.
The characteristic of the APIs through which Kogan managed to get the data was called Permission of Friends, which was eliminated by Facebook in 2014. This allowed not only to collect information from the user, but also from their friends, hence, with only 270,000 people who took the Cambridge Analytica test were able to gather the data of 50 million users.
If something benefits Trump, it’s always going to be news
This use of the data would not have ended up generating more noise than usual in these situations if it were not because the data obtained by Cambridge Analytica have supposedly been used to boost the election campaign of Donald Trump . Some people indicate that this company has been a key piece in the Internet strategy of their campaign, but perhaps it is to attribute more merit than they deserve
The election of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States caught too many people by surprise, inside and outside the country. Almost half a year after he was elected, they are still looking for explanations of how it could have happened, either by the spreading of hoaxes by the Russians or any other circumstance.
In this case, the information of the users would have been used to draw a psychological profile of them, from there, to adapt the electoral messages to the users and modify the users’ sense of vote. For practical purposes, a way to distort reality to adapt the perception of the voter to it and achieve the objective sought, that is, to put Trump in the White House.
However, the effectiveness of this tactic has been questioned because its models would be somewhat less effective than the system that the Republican National Committee usually uses. In addition, there are also assertions of Cambridge Analytcia executives that never used this type of tactics, called psychographics, in the Trump campaign, apart from several reports about last year that go in the same direction.
The scandal is not just the theft of information
Although the company was already being investigated by various means before 2016, its participation in the Trump election campaign put even more eyes on it. A few days ago, the British channel Channel 4 News, using hidden cameras, recorded comments from the Cambridge Analytica executive director , Alexander Nix, in which it seems to suggest that they had used dirty tactics to discredit political adversaries , including bribes, prostitutes and espionage. , with the purpose of helping its clients to win elections in several countries.
These statements, and they have ended up costing Nix, have only magnified the scandal of using the data obtained through Facebook, being the straw that filled the glass. All this has caused the legislators of the United States and Great Britain to demand explanations .
In the British case, a committee of the British parliament has requested the appearance of Mark Zuckerberg himself . This has been motivated by the committee’s perception that, in a previous hearing, the company “led them to a mistake” about this information gap. For that reason they want a high position of the company with the due authority to give precise information about what happened.
Meanwhile, in the United States , two former officials of the Federal Trade Commission have indicated that obtaining this data from the social network by a third party would violate the agreement reached by Facebook with this organization in 2011. In case this ends confirming itself, the company would face heavy fines. In addition, congressmen in the country have also requested the appearance before them of Zuckerberg to testify about the company’s activities in this data filtration.
Facebook finally reacts
What happened with these data can be seen as another example of the company’s lack of rigor towards the use made of user data, either by the company itself or by third parties. Despite the measures implemented in the social network so that users have some control over the information they share, as well as those who access it, this and other cases give reasons to think that they are not effective enough.
Facebook was aware that Cambridge Analytica had not deleted the data last week , through media such as The New York Times . Therefore, they proceeded to block it on the platform , hiring the services of an audit company, Stroz Friedberg, to verify if they still had these data in their possession. However, as the British authorities have requested an order to enter the company and register their servers, they have checked the activity of the auditor.
Mark Zuckerberg has come to the fore, with an entry in his Facebook profile . In it he has made a dissection of what happened, with dates. He has also indicated that not only Kogan and Cambridge Analytica broke Facebook’s trust, but also the company has betrayed the trust of users , so they will proceed to try to amend the situation. Obviously, the 35 billion dollars that the company has fallen on the stock market is the most palpable manifestation of the loss of public confidence in the social network.
The executive director of Facebook has indicated the battery of measures that will be adopted, which includes investigating all applications that have accessed large amounts of data from the social network before they reduced access to them in 2014. Any suspicious application it will be audited, blocking developers who are not happy with this. If a misuse of the data is found, the developer will be blocked and a notification will be sent to those affected.
They will also further restrict the data that is shared with third parties , by requiring developers to sign a contract and obtain authorization to access them. As for the data held by existing applications, they will enable the possibility for users to consult what information they are sharing with whom on the News section of the user’s wall.
Zuckerberg has also given interviews in recent days , in which he has offered more or less apologies, although his most significant statement has been to CNN, to whom he said that “I’m not sure if we should be regulated.” Maybe, slowly, things will change in the social network, although there is already a movement for the closure of profiles to which the co-founder of WhastApp, acquired by the company, has joined.
Despite the measures implemented in the social network so that users have some control over the information they share, as well as those who access it, this and other cases give reasons to think that they are not effective enough. Precisely this is motivating lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic to carefully analyze Facebook’s privacy policies and the protection of user data. The commerce with the data of the users must end up having limits to avoid abuses and misuse of the same.