The recent revelations about Cambridge Analytica turned out to be a big bucket of ice water over the heads of millions of social media users. While they understood, somewhat, about how Facebook and other social networks used their data, many people apparently didn’t realize what that really meant…or exactly how much latitude some data mining companies were allowed. Now, that cat is out of the bag in a big way after Cambridge Analytica was accused of “illegally accessing” up to 50 million Facebook user profiles. For some time after the news broke, Facebook was relatively silent about the issue. Then, Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg sat down with CNN for an interview about the scandal.
“I’m really sorry this ‘major breach of trust’ happened. We have a basic responsibility to protect people’s data.” These comments came after a lengthy Facebook post in which Zuckerberg said his company had “a responsibility to protect your data… and if we can’t then he don’t deserve to serve you.”
This whole debacle dates back to 2013, when a Cambridge University researcher named Aleksandr Kogan built a quiz app that became very popular on Facebook. About 300,000 people downloaded the quiz. So far, so good, everyone had opted in, after all. Unfortunately, the program didn’t stop with those who had opted in, it began collecting information from friends of those who opted in to the app. In the Facebook Post, Zuckerberg said Facebook’s interface allowed the expansion of the data collection: “Given the way our platform worked at the time this meant Kogan was able to access tens of millions of their friends’ data…”
Tens of millions.
That revelation sent social media users into a tailspin of rage and suspicion, wondering if their data had been collected, by whom… and exactly what people knew about them without their consent.
A year after the app hit, in 2014, Zuckerberg claimed Facebook was altering its platform to stop allowing this kind of data collection by third party sources without user consent. A year later, Zuckerberg said he learned Kogan had shared his data with Cambridge Analytica. Kogan’s app was subsequently banned, and Zuckerberg claimed that he demanded Cambridge Analytica certify they had deleted all user data collected using the quiz.
At the time, Facebook believed that deletion had occurred. Later, though, media reports revealed that Cambridge Analytica may not have followed through all the way. Zuckerberg called this a “breach of trust” and said his company would take a share of the blame as well: “This was a breach of trust between Kogan, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. But it was also a breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it… We need to fix that.”
Based on the current mood of social media users, they don’t believe anything has been fixed quite yet.
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.