Furor grows over Facebook 'data breach'

On the surface, the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica (CA) face-off is fairly straightforward; bi tech vs, big data. But what happens if big tech was in bed with big data? What if Facebook's highly touted "privacy" efforts were nothing but a sham?

And why is the use personal information of 50 million Facebook acounts being called "a breach"?

According to the Washington Post, the former privacy manager for Facebook, Sandy Parakilas, called out Facebook, saying "They only banned Kogan and CA yesterday to get in front of the press cycle,” Parakilas said. “During my 16 months at the company, I don’t recall Facebook ever using its audit rights on a developer.”

So the banning is a sham. And if you dig a little further, you find that Facebook actually worked with CA. 

Despite Facebook’s concerns in 2015, the social network continued to work with Cambridge Analytica. During the presidential election, Facebook employees assisting Donald Trump’s digital operation worked in the same office as Cambridge Analytica workers, according to a video by the BBC. One former Cambridge employee, Joseph Chancellor, continues to work at Facebook as a user-experience researcher, according to Facebook’s public website.

Until 2015, Facebook allowed developers to use data harvested from apps available on the website. CA developed an app called "Thisisyourdigitallife." It was just one of several interesting apps that "predicted" personality traits based on your "likes" and other social media data.

CA did absolutely nothing wrong when 270,000 Facebook users downloaded the app, giving the company access to not only some personal data of those who downloaded it, but their Facebook "friends" as well. Estimates put the number of Facebook accounts that were mined for data at 50 million.

But the problem is how CA used that data and whether they hung on to it despite promising to delete it.

“This is more evidence that the online political advertising market is essentially the Wild West,” said Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a statement. “Whether it’s allowing Russians to purchase political ads, or extensive microtargeting based on ill-gotten user data, it’s clear that, left unregulated, this market will continue to be prone to deception and lacking in transparency.”

Cambridge Analytica — which was funded by Trump supporter and hedge fund executive Robert Mercer, and once had on its board the president’s former senior adviser Stephen K. Bannon — has denied wrongdoing. The company has said its “psychometric profiles” could predict the personality and political leanings of most U.S. voters.

 “We worked with Facebook over this period to ensure that they were satisfied that we had not knowingly breached any of Facebook’s terms of service and also provided a signed statement to confirm that all Facebook data and their derivatives had been deleted,” Cambridge Analytica said in a statement Saturday.

The company’s actions in the United States and abroad have generated scrutiny from government investigators in Britain and the United States, who have been looking at Russian interference in elections.

CA's data gathering operation was legal, but scary. Their claims that they can predict voter behavior are almost certainly grossly exaggerated, if not a bunch of snake oil. What they can do with all that data is find your likes and dislikes and precisely target ads and messages. How much "persuasion" is involved is unknown. For instance, the idea that Russian bought ads on Facebook won the election for Trump is pretty dumb - but it sounds good on TV and makes Hillary Clinton feel better. Whether it's the truth is doubtful.

I think Senator Warner is right. The sort of data mining is frightening when all things are considered. Facebook should suffer the consequences of their lax privacy policies and change them to make it harder for developers to access the kinds of data that Cambridge Analytica was able to utilize.

Update. Michael Nadler writes:

All this stuff at the top of Drudge including NY Times article headlined, “How Trump Consultants Exploited the Facebook Data of Millions” exposing the use of Facebook info create profiles of voters and exploit the info to influence the election by Cambridge Analytica and the involvement of foreigners in that company which is illegal under election law.
Maybe I’m missing something since I’m not on Facebook, but isn’t the whole market value of Facebook based upon its ability to exploit its database of personal information for the purpose of influencing consumers on behalf of advertisers?  Why would targeted advertising for elections be any different?  And weren’t the Obama campaigns of 2008 and 2012 lauded for their sophisticated use of digital and social media, and didn’t the DNC and Hillary’s campaign geniuses attempt to build upon that and take the use of social media to a more advanced level?
And I don’t understand why involvement of foreign persons in Cambridge Analytica would all of a sudden be this enormous and shocking issue.  Wasn’t the individual who was secretly hired by the DNC and Clinton campaign via cutouts to create the dossier that was weaponized against the Trump campaign, a guy named Christopher Steele, a foreigner, albeit from a friendly country?
Now I understand from the article that Cambridge Analytica may have obtained the data from Facebook under false pretenses.  But wouldn’t that be an issue to be resolved or litigated by the two parties?  
What would have prevented either campaign from paying Facebook directly to exploit its social media database capabilities to try to win votes?  Doesn’t everyone do that when the pay for targeted advertisements? (Actually this is a real question, because I don’t know how it works, but based on ads that pop up when I’m on the internet, I assume that’s what it’s all about.)  is it possible that Facebook has no foreign computer geniuses working for it?  Is it possible that Facebook doesn’t operate in and make money in other countries as Cambridge Analytica apparently does?

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