Have you ever filled in a quiz on Facebook? If so, you may have made yourself vulnerable.
Recently, it became clear that Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics company, got access to more than 50 million Facebook users’ data in 2014. The data was overwhelmingly collected, shared, and stored without explicit user consent.
Make no mistake: this was not a data breach.
The scale of this violation of user privacy reflects how Facebook’s terms of service were structured at the time. Cambridge Analytics created a ‘personality quiz’ through their app ‘thisisyourdigitallife’, which was allowed the company to harvest millions of Facebook profiles and tell which users would be best suited for which ads.
This harvesting meant they collected data including things you ‘liked’ on the site and any public information users may have permitted in their privacy settings.
It didn’t even require photos, status updates or comments to build up a picture of a user’s race, gender, sexual orientation – and, says The Observer, it could even predict even “intelligence and childhood trauma” or “vulnerability to substance abuse”.
The Cambridge Analytica former employee and now whistle-blower, Christopher Wylie stated;
“We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons.”
Who is Cambridge Analytica?
Founded in 2014 by billionaire called Robert Mercer, it developed a technique to use Facebook data from personality quizzes to compile an algorithm that personally profiled and targeted voters in the USA. Christopher Wylie was one of the ‘masterminds’ behind its operation.
How did they get so much data?
Through a personality quiz, they were able to work out what people like and dislike based on their quiz results and other available data.
If you were friends with someone who took the quiz – which paid American Facebook users to participate – then that friend would have consented for your data (your likes, dislikes and other publicly available information) to also have been shared. This fact was only stated in the Terms and Conditions
No personal data such as your password will have been accessed.
Why did they collect this data?
Cambridge Analytica were able to craft detailed profiles based on limited Facebook data, and were able to match it with voter records – because to take the quiz, you had to be an eligible US voter.
The company knew who you were likely to vote for, but it also knew how to adapt its advertising to change your mind.
Allegedly, this helped the company specifically target and influence groups of the electorate on social media; particularly during Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign. Where more than 100 targeted adverts were sent every day, targeted to groups such as ‘working mothers concerned about childcare”.
Did you know that most of Trump’s campaign money was spent on Facebook? $85 million dollars to be exact!
However, the company has denied that it harvested Facebook data, and said that it didn’t use any Facebook information during the 2016 presidential election. It has also said that it complied with Facebook’s terms of service and no longer has the data it received from the quiz.
Do you need to worry?
If you are not a registered voter in the USA, your personal information has not been hacked or stolen in this scandal. This mis-use of data only targeted US voters.
To avoid this kind of data breach being used to target you, you need to be very careful about the data permissions you give to your connected apps – but even if you do that, you’re still at risk of your friends offering your data to third parties when they give their apps certain permissions.
To see which information Facebook holds on you, visit your Ad Preferences page and click on ‘Your Categories’
Look after your own safety and share this article with your friends so they understand what happened too. The reality of this is that it is scary and creepy that your platforms can tell this much information about you, but while people live through social media and sites allow companies access to so much of our data, this will continue to happen.
Advertising and data are not only an issue within Facebook, over the coming days and months, it is likely more stories of this nature will appear, and it will become part of the digital age we live in. Stay vigilant of who you give access to your data – and don’t take everything you see online as the truth. Do some research, build an educated opinion.
To learn more about how to set strict privacy settings on Facebook, visit our h2b safety centre.