Facebook has been catching a lot of heat in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica “scandal”. Which actually isn’t a scandal at all. But, like a lot of things that are “scandals”, they only become scandals when we find out about otherwise perfectly legal actions that weren’t made clear in the beginning.
In short, an app that Cambridge Analytica used in 2014, legally collected user data from 270,000 Facebook users. The reason it is getting everyone’s knickers in a twist is because the data wasn’t used for “research”, but for political purposes. Cambridge Analytica scraped data from Facebook users and their contacts, and used that information to help political candidates target their ads and campaign strategies. For example, the Trump campaign may have used that data to develop ads specifically for a steel worker in Pennsylvania. This is the same kind of thing that the Obama campaign did in 2012, so don’t think it’s anything exciting, new, and different. The Trump campaign wasn’t that much of a genius.
A lot of companies use this kind of data scraping. Do you seriously think that every time you complete a MagiQuiz on Facebook that the company sponsoring that quiz hasn’t been granted access to your contacts and THEIR information? Most of those companies use it in order to sell you something.
And if you want to know what data Facebook collects, all you need do is ask, and you will get a file full of everything you’ve ever done on the site. And it also collects things you haven’t done. For example, if you start typing a comment and delete it, Facebook (and Twitter) collects and analyzes that information.
While Facebook claims to not sell raw data (very grey area here), apps that are using Facebook do have access to your information. Also, the company does buy data from third party vendors. Even your offline data. The more information it has on you, the better it can target you.
Facebook even collects data from your phone. Remember when you set up the cool Facebook app on your Android device a few years ago? Yeah, Facebook knows who your contacts are, and it even collected metadata about who you texted and who you called.
When an enterprising reporter from ArsTechnica.com discovered about two years’ worth of text and call data in his Facebook file, he asked a simple question—why? The response: “The most important part of apps and services that help you make connections is to make it easy to find the people you want to connect with. So, the first time you sign in on your phone to a messaging or social app, it's a widely used practice to begin by uploading your phone contacts."
Facebook uses that data to help you find friends, and make recommendations for more friends based on your contacts’ friends.
It’s the circle of life!! Friends beget friends beget friends. It’s a giant kumbaya drum circle of friends.
But Facebook still hasn’t answered why it collects and retains all that data in the first place.
Facebook is now taking steps to minimize the fallout from user data being used for the sinister purpose of targeting likely Trump voters. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO and founder, has been testifying in front of Congress, giving whiny interviews, and generally being such a smug, smarmy jerk that you want to regulate him just to shut him the F up!
To show how serious Facebook is about its mea culpa and privacy reformation, the company has issued an apology of sorts.
It took out ads in print versions of the London Observer, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. All of these papers have a combined print circulation of a little over 2.2 million people. The ad reads in part "We have a responsibility to protect your information. If we can't, we don't deserve it,".
The ad reached 2.2 million people directly. As of December 2017, Facebook had about 2.2 BILLION monthly active users. In other words, Facebook’s heartfelt apology, was probably only seen by 0.1% of its user base.