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  • Writer's pictureTabby Boyton

A Scandal in Analytica

Cambridge Analytica has been mentioned frequently in the news this week due to the whistleblower Christopher Wylie, revealing the extent of their data mining programme to influence political elections. The fact that Cambridge Analytica operated on the behalf of Brexit and the Trump campaigns in 2016, also adds fuel to the fire. At the core of this scandal is the issue of personal privacy and the ethical issues surrounding the handling of user data online.

Before we dive deep into the legal and ethical issues, let’s look at what Cambridge Analytica actually does. It’s an information gathering service which offers their expertise to political groups, usually conservative ones (it’s backed by Robert Mercer, the man who has donated to multiple Trump Super PACs explain what this is). So say you’re a conservative politician who wants to understand who they want to reach out to. They hire Cambridge Analytica to “mine” through Facebook and develop psychometric profiles of the people that are likely to support them: what sport team they like, where you are, what food they eat, what music they like and so on. Rocked by the revelations of the depth and breath of the profiles that were used for Cambridge Analytica’s compilations, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been accused of being much too lax with allowing external companies to harvest and exploit Facebook data.

As per usual, it seems that there are two sides to the story. One perspective of events, as presented by Cambridge Analytica, argues that the users have freely given their consent to Facebook, as the limited liability company to use cookies and collect data. As Facebook did not specify what purposes the data would be used for, a user does not have sufficient grounds to say that they did not give consent for a certain purpose. For Cambridge Analytica to collect data from Facebook to determine campaign strategies for third parties therefore is a concern between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, not Cambridge Analytica and the users.

On the other hand, it can be argued that it is against Facebook policy to allow third parties to exploit the masses of data. Proponents of digital privacy have argued that the information contained on Facebook profiles was private in nature. This is due to Facebook having a duty of care to protect this information from being exploited for profit. After all, their community guidelines do state that they are against the “misuse of information.” However, the fact that Cambridge Analytica was able to do this shows a lack of care on Facebook’s part. As a tech giant of our age, it is only ethically and legally binding that they show an awareness of thepotential for Facebook data to be misused, especially for such important contexts such as elections. Therefore, in my opinion,

Facebook is therefore liable for the inadequate protection of information as they are not chasing up third parties which are involved in breaches of their guidelines.

What is your view on this scandal? Leave it in the comments down below.

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