Earlier this week, social media giant Facebook drew flak for allowing Cambridge Analytica, a data-driven digital marketing firm, to illegally obtain personal information from over 50 million American users. The extracted data was reportedly used to influence the outcome of 2016 U.S elections.
Although the data theft apocalypse came to light only a few days ago, it was predicted way back in 2007 when social scientists and data experts started looking at cellphone data to study online interactions. David Lazer, a data-oriented political scientist at Harvard at the time, told Wired that the team had accidentally invented a particle accelerator to understand human behavior better. “It became apparent to me that everything was changing in terms of understanding human behavior,” he said.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized for the incident and announced a series of measures that the platform will take to protect people’s privacy and data.
Chalking out the timeline of events, Zuckerberg revealed that Aleksandr Kogan, a researcher at Cambridge University, created a personality quiz app in 2013. This app was installed by around 300,000 users who shared their data as well as some of their friends’ data. “Given the way our platform worked at the time, this meant Kogan was able to access tens of millions of their friends’ data,” Zuckerberg said.
In 2014, Facebook announced a massive change to the platform that imposed certain access restrictions. In 2015, when Facebook learned of Kogan sharing the extracted data with Cambridge Analytica, it blocked the app from the platform.
“It is against our policies for developers to share data without people’s consent, so we immediately banned Kogan’s app from our platform, and demanded that Kogan and Cambridge Analytica formally certify that they had deleted all improperly acquired data. They provided these certifications,” Zuckerberg said in his post.
What happens next?
In April, Facebook will display a tool above the news feed which will showcase the apps installed by the user.
Facebook has also promised to investigate all apps that had access to vast amounts of information before the algorithm change in 2014. Developers who do not agree to a thorough audit will be banned from the social media platform. Facebook will also restrict developers’ data access to prevent other kinds of abuse.