Breakdown: Cambridge Analytica, information warfare

If you follow political news regularly you’ve likely heard of a company called Cambridge Analytica- and if you haven’t, well you’re in the right place because you’re about to get the breakdown.

Cambridge Analytica is a voter-profiling company that recently made headlines due to its work for the Donald Trump campaign back in 2016. According to reports, Cambridge Analytica took information from more than 50 million Facebook users’ profiles, without their consent, and used the personal data to develop strategies and techniques of how to best target potential voters.

While voter targeting is a common practice in political campaigns, the issue of moral debate here is the firm’s harvesting of the Facebook profiles without the user’s knowledge or consent.

According to Facebook, “In 2015, we learned that a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge named Dr. Aleksandr Kogan lied to us and violated our Platform Policies by passing data from an app that was using Facebook Login to SCL/Cambridge Analytica, a firm that does political, government and military work around the globe. He also passed that data to Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies, Inc.”

According to the Cambridge Analytica employees’ statements to the New York Times, the information from the profiles was collected without their permission.

Facebook, however, pushed back against the idea that this was a data breach and said in a statement, “the claim that this is a data breach is completely false. Aleksandr Kogan requested and gained access to information from users who chose to sign up to his app, and everyone involved gave their consent. People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.”

However, Kogan only said he was using the information for academic purposes within his permission request.

The fallout of this latest development in the 2016 election, because yes somehow that’s still happening, has already spread to congressional calls for hearings by Cambridge Analytica employees and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg. Facebook also took matters into its own hands by suspending not only Cambridge Analytica from Facebook but its parent company, Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), too “pending further information.”

“We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information,” Facebook’s Vice President and Deputy General Counsel Paul Grewal said. “We will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens. We will take legal action if necessary to hold them responsible and accountable for any unlawful behavior.”

For its part, Cambridge Analytica announced Tuesday that it was suspending CEO Alexander Nix because he does “not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation.” The company also took to Twitter to clear up what it calls “myths” about its use of Facebook information. According to its Twitter, Cambridge Analytica deleted the Facebook data it received once it learned it violated terms of service and that none of the data used from Facebook was used on the Trump campaign.

As more information about Cambridge Analytica’s techniques and Facebook’s, along with other social media sites’ role in keeping users information private becomes available a larger conversation about data mining and digital privacy is likely to unfold. Hopefully, this brief breakdown of this event will help you on those future conversations.