Thoughts about Cambridge Analytica

There’s a huge scandal these days around Cambridge Analytica since The New York Times and The Observer reported on the company’s use of personal information acquired by an external researcher who claimed to be collecting it for academic purposes. In response, Facebook banned Cambridge Analytica from advertising on its platform. Reports also say that Cambridge Analytica CA worked for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. That’s just to draw the context. As a last introduction note, I won’t make any comment on politics or legal aspects of this scandal!

What’s the core problem?

I said it many times before: data is a real new currency and it becomes more important each day, taking into consideration all the advances that are made in the artificial intelligence and machine learning fields. Data is the core problem of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Precisely, there was a psychological quiz application on Facebook that asked users for access to their Facebook profile in return for their quiz result. The application was used more than 200.000 times but taking into consideration that the requested access also included the Facebook friends, it’s obvious that a huge amount of data was gathered.

This data was then used by Cambridge Analytica to perform profiling using artificial intelligence. The resulted information was then used to serve targeted content to Facebook users. If the data was gathered directly by Cambridge Analytica or by a third party that then made it available to the company is something that will probably clarified in court, so I won’t dwell on it.

Who is responsible for this?

A lot of people – including journalists, researchers, security experts – jumped into accusing Facebook of unreliable handling of personal data. Clearly, Facebook has a lot of things to do in this field, but on the other hand making data available to different brands for marketing purposes is a core business model for companies like Facebook or Google. So in my opinion the core problem here is the lack of basic education on how each of us should protect its personal data in a social media’s world!

You don’t need to be an IT expert or software developer to understand that each time you allow Facebook application to access your user profile, you basically provide them all the data about you and receive a simple an generic quiz result in turn, or funny predictions about your life. Whoever receives your data, will then use it in one way or another to serve you content that you’ll surely like, no matter if it’s a pair of shoes or a presidential candidate.

Note that there are hundreds of thousands of such Facebook application floating around and that simply collect your data. So Cambridge Analytica is surely not the only company that does this.

What can you do?

First of all, don’t allow strange apps to access your Facebook profile! I am fairly sure that you will be able to continue your life without knowing what type of personality you are (you can contact a psychologist if you really want to find this out) and without funny predictions about your life. Also a Solitaire game really doesn’t need access to your entire Facebook profile to work properly. In general, be extremely picky when allowing access to your user profile.

Then you might want to revisit your Facebook apps settings and remove apps that are not trustworthy! Note that this won’t remove the data that these apps have already gathered about you, but at least applications that you remove won’t be able to access your data in the future.

Some final thoughts

Data is very important in a world where artificial intelligence and machine learning become more and more democratized. We all enjoy being socially connected on the internet but be aware that this comes some risks regarding the data about you. Make sure that you understand and use the privacy settings on each social network you are signed up for. Also, don’t allow external applications access to your user profile (applications are not able to get data about you unless you clicked on “accept” at a certain point).

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