— Data

Facebook & Cambridge Analytica: A Rational Analysis

Adnan Khan

Summary

There’s been plenty of media coverage featuring Facebook and Cambridge Analytica over recent weeks. Here’s our take on the situation.

Where does the story begin?

The origins of the controversy can be traced back to a ‘personality quiz’ web app created by Cambridge University professor, Aleksandr Kogan, in 2013. To participate in the quiz, the participant was required to click "Login via Facebook" via a social registration button. Approximately 300,000 people installed the app and shared their data in order to get a personality assessment. Due to the way Facebook’s social graph API worked at the time (2013), this also allowed the app to collect data about each user's friends - giving Kogan unauthorised access to tens of millions of people’s data.

Facebook took early measures to safeguard data

In 2014, the incident led to Facebook implementing a number of safeguards to dramatically limit the data that apps could access. This meant that any future apps similar to Kogan’s personality quiz could not access the data of users’ friend lists, unless the friend expressly gave their authorisation to do so. More stringent approval measures were also put in place to require future app and website developers to gain approval from Facebook before they can request sensitive data.

Why the controversy now?

By the time these rules were put in place, the data harvested by Kogan was largely out of the Facebook ecosystem. That’s until it was improperly sold by Kogan (and associated parties) to data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, who then utilised the data for the purposes of targeting messaging, and more relevant advertising, to various audiences.

This is nothing new in the digital advertising industry, and there are many advertising and marketing platforms that offer the same functionality that allows this. However, given the allegations that this data was potentially used for political gain in the 2016 presidential election, the impact of how data companies are using Facebook to influence popular opinion becomes concerning.

Media coverage has also largely focussed on Facebook's policing and regulation of this matter, and whether they are doing enough now to ensure app developers aren’t given the opportunity in the future to misuse data and violate platform policy.

What challenges lie ahead for Facebook?

There are approximately 39 million websites and apps globally who use Facebook platform functionality to deliver personalised experiences without breaking platform policy.

The challenge for Facebook now is to ensure they have better safeguards in place to catch any future perpetrators who might be breaking that policy. Mark Zuckerberg has stated he will be conducting a “full forensic audit” of the platform to see which third-party apps have gained access to data improperly, and has pledged to inform users if this is the case.

More regulations will need to be put in place to police access to a community of billions of people, and tens of millions of websites and apps, to ensure that everyone can trust that their personal information will be safe online.

Our view

At krunch.co, data is at the heart of everything we do. One of our core values is “Let’s be respectful”, and in this context, we are acutely aware of the need to respect user data and trust (beyond just Facebook). A user expressly allowing our brands access to their data means we have a responsibility to ensure we earn users’ trust, by only using their data for the purpose of delighting them through better marketing and communications experiences.

Another of our core values states, "Let's keep learning". We strive to ensure that our partners are informed of the new opportunities and challenges that present themselves as we navigate through the ever-changing world of digital transformation. We will continue to ensure that we pass on the tools and insights we gain from our industry partnerships with global technology companies like Facebook to our partners. That way, we help them to ensure they are doing everything they can to provide their customers with the best experiences online while keeping their data safe.

Please reach out to us today if you have any questions, or would like more information.

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