The Facebook Data Breach

Facebook’s dislike notification count got a little higher last week after reports of improper data management leaked. London-based company, Cambridge Analytica, shockingly gained access to the personal data of around 50 million Facebook users. Since the Facebook data breach came to light, the Federal Trade Commission announced they would be investigating Facebook’s data practices, and the Facebook stock fluctuated at alarming rates. According to some experts, if you want to hide your information, you may want to consider hitting the “delete profile” button soon.

Who is Cambridge Analytica

Cambridge Analytica is a political consulting firm based out of London. They worked on the Trump Campaign in 2016, and Steven Bannon, a former senior advisor to Trump, was the Vice President at the time.

The Facebook data breach occurred between June and August 2014 but came to light on March 17 because of a whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, the same man who orchestrated and executed the Facebook data breach. Wylie, a 28-year-old Canadian, worked with a reporter from the Observer for over a year, telling her exactly how he helped Cambridge Analytica harvest data from Facebook.

facebook data breach

Christopher Wylie

Wylie’s idea was to “bring big data and social media to an established military methodology – “information operations” – then turn it on the US electorate.” Wylie and Cambridge Analytica did this by “harvest[ing] the Facebook profiles of millions of people in the US, and [using] their private and personal information to create sophisticated psychological and political profiles. And then target them with political ads designed to work on their particular psychological makeup.” This highly strategic, targeted, and scary sounding plan executed through an app called thisismydigitallife. Users who took a personality quiz on the app gave the app permission to access their Facebook profiles and the profiles of their friends. Ultimately, Cambridge Analytica gained access to data from around 50 million Facebook profiles.

Why Should you Care?

The Facebook data breach is concerning for many reasons, especially when you realize Facebook has known about this since 2015. In August 2016, Wylie received a letter from Facebook’s lawyers asking that he destroy any data collected by the app. Wylie didn’t respond to the letter for weeks, and Facebook never followed up to confirm he followed through.

On March 17th, the Guardian broke the story of the Facebook data breach. Mark Zuckerberg did not comment on the situation until March 21st, when he posted a lengthy statement on Facebook, of course. On March 26th, the Federal Trade Commission confirmed they are investigating Facebook, and the following day Zuckerberg confirmed he would testify before Congress. He is expected to answer specific questions on how Cambridge Analytica was able to access Facebook’s data and how Facebook will address these concerns going forward.

Facebook data breach

Mark Zuckerberg

This summary does not include many details of this complicated and concerning situation. Christopher Wylie was not the only whistleblower, and Cambridge Analytica was not the only company involved in the Facebook data breach. With companies such as Target, Expedia, and now Facebook facing concerns over data protection, a rudimentary knowledge of the situation has never been so imperative. If you feel inclined to learn more, click this link to read investigative reporter, Carole Cadwalladr’s, article busting open the whole operation.