“A whistleblower has revealed to the Observer how Cambridge Analytica – a company owned by the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, and headed at the time by Trump’s key adviser Steve Bannon – used personal information taken without authorisation in early 2014 to build a system that could profile individual US voters, in order to target them with personalised political advertisements.”
We’ve heard rumblings of this before, particularly in Carole Cadwalladr’s previous reporting on Brexit and Cambridge Analytica (which lead Britain’s Electoral Commission and the Information Commissioner’s Office to launch an investigation into Brexit and Cambridge Analytica.) But having a whistleblower confirming so much information from the inside is monumental. I’d really recommend watching The Guardian’s interview with whistleblower Christopher Wylie, who worked for Cambridge Analytica. (He has now been suspended from using Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram!)
What’s really important to note about all of this is that Facebook is not an innocent party, regardless of whether their platform policies were “breached” or “abused.” Some thoughts on this from smart people below:
“To every commentator now asking how Facebook could have given access to such intimate profiles of people to third parties, I ask you: what makes it right that Facebook, Inc. has that information to begin with and uses it to manipulate people for its profit and political motives?”—@aral
“If your business is building a massive surveillance machinery, the data will eventually be used & misused. Hacked, breached, leaked, pilfered, conned, “targeted”, “engaged”, “profiled”, sold… There is no informed consent because it’s not possible to reasonably inform or consent.”—Zeynep Tufecki
“Facebook could do the ultimate version of this kind of correlation-based marketing in-house, of course: ’want to target people who might be interested in X? Here are the best-correlated interests with the highest numbers of people in area Y’”—James Ball
“People are right to be concerned about the actions of Kogan and Cambridge Analytica - although some are undeniably resurfacing outrage about Trump & Brexit results. But it isn’t unique. All campaigns now use digital targeting.
I’m uncomfortable about this, but primarily concerned about the state’s use of data and the potential for Facebook’s own use, both of which could be unspeakably powerful. BTW, literally everything Facebook has is grabbable by UK Government (see Part 7 Investigatory Powers Act).”—Silkie Carlo
And on why it was not really a “breach”:
“Ah I see, Facebook wasn’t “breached”, the firm just exploited weak default account privacy protections by taking advantage of a user perception that using Facebook to log into a 3rd party app was safe.
Totally different thing.”—Sarah Jamie Lewis