All You Need To Know About Facebook-Cambridge Data Leak Saga

by Divya Makhija    Mar 23, 2018


In the last one week, popular social media site Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg have been exposed to unsparing condemnation, courtesy the alleged misuse of data by Cambridge Analytica. The allegation says that the data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, extracted a whopping 50 million profiles from the social networking site to plan campaigns for 2016 US elections and Brexit referendum. The data leakage has turned into a major controversy over the last few days. Here’s all your need to know about it:

What’s the controversy?

Cambridge Analytica (CA) is a UK-based data analytics firm with its parent company named Strategic Communications Laboratories. The job of this data analytics firm is to come up with online political campaigns, influence potential voters online and it does this by combining data from multiple sources including online information.

This time, as per the allegations, the said data analytics firm has extracted the data with the help of a personality quiz on Facebook. The quiz is called “this is your digital life” and was taken up by nearly 300,000 people. The app illegally acquired data of the users’ friends and managed to get access to nearly 50 million profiles which is against Facebook guidelines. This data was then used to create a psychological profile of the users as well as their friends based on their online activities which was further misused for targeted political advertising during UK’s Brexit referendum as well as during the 2016 US presidential elections.

However, CA has refuted the allegations stating that it does not hold data from Facebook profiles. The firm admitted that it had contracted a company, Global Science Research (GSR), for a large-scale research project. As per the remarks made by CA, GSR only obtained data in accordance with the UK Data Protection Act and after seeking user consent.

How did Facebook CEO react to this?

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote a post on his personal page saying, We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you. I’ve been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn’t happen again. The good news is that the most important actions to prevent this from happening again today we have already taken years ago.” The Facebook CEO acknowledged that the company did make mistakes and more stringent actions are needed to be taken to check this.

He also wrote, “the whole incident of data breaching is a breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it. We will do everything to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

While addressing the question of fixing the issue, Zuckerberg said, “they will investigate all apps that had access to large amounts of information before the company changed its policies in 2014.” Facebook will conduct a full audit of any app with suspicious activity and if something is found amiss, the developers concerned will be banned from the network, the CEO informed.

What’s India Govt’s response?

The controversy has caused a lot of upheaval amongst Indian political parties as well as the Lok Sabha elections are approaching. Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Information and Technology, said Indian government will take serious actions if Facebook’s negligence cause any disturbance to India’s electoral process. “If need be, strong action will be taken. Let me make it very, very clear, we fully support freedom of press, speech and expression; we fully support free exchange of ideas on social media. But any attempt, covert or overt, by social media, including Facebook, of trying to influence India’s electoral process through undesirable means will neither be appreciated nor be tolerated,” Prasad said.

The minister added that the government could also summon Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg if needed. “Mr Mark Zuckerberg, you better note the observation of the IT Minister of India. We welcome Facebook in India, but if any data theft of Indians is done through the collusion of Facebook’s system, it shall not be tolerated. We have got stringent powers in the IT Act, we shall use it, including summoning you to India,” said the minister.

Indian political parties, BJP and Congress are accusing each other of having a connection with data firm Cambridge Analytica and its parent firm Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL). Whereas Prasad from BJP alleged that the controversial firm was in talks with the Congress party for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Congress has denied all such charges. “Indian National Congress or the Congress president has never used or never hired the services of a company called Cambridge Analytica. It is a fake agenda and white lie being dished out by Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad,” said Surjewala. “BJP’s factory of fake news has produced one more fake product today. It appears fake statements, fake press conferences & fake agendas have become every day character of BJP,” he added.

UK Parliamentary Committee’s reaction

Damian Collins, Chairman, UK parliamentary media committee, has asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify in front of the committee. He said the committee has repeatedly asked Facebook how it uses data and that company officials have been misleading the committee. “It is now time to hear from a senior Facebook executive with the sufficient authority to give an accurate account of this catastrophic failure of process. Given your commitment at the start of the New Year to ‘fixing’ Facebook, I hope that this representative will be you,” he said.

What’s the road ahead?

With all the developments that have taken place recently, the controversy is likely to remain in our news feed for quite some time now. The validation of the allegations will take time. However, one can conclude by saying that the voices of critics who have been asking for more regulation of social media will be strengthened after this data breach.