BY KATHY KAHN
When an app called “thisisyourdigitallife” became available in 2013, 270,000 Facebook users were paid a nominal fee to fill out a personality quiz. That quiz opened the door for London-based Cambridge Analytics to troll the friends and acquaintances of the Facebook members who downloaded the app. All told, over 50 million Facebook accounts were breached in the United States.
Although Facebook learned about the breach in 2015, it tried to hush it up until a former employee of Cambridge Analytics, Christopher Wylie, blew the whistle on both Facebook and his own company last year. Wylie, former director of Research for Cambridge Analytica, said the company “exploited what we knew about Facebook users.”
Wylie worked with Cambridge University’s Aleksandr Kogan and Kogan’s own company, Global Scientific Research, which created the app and then used it to hack into family, friends and acquaintances of those 270,000 test-takers.
Mark Zuckerman, founder of Facebook, has made a public apology to those whose accounts were hacked, but it didn’t stop his stock from dropping drastically and leave people wondering if Facebook is trustworthy. He’s agreed to testify before Congress but is not travelling to England to face Parliament. (He may send someone to stand in for him.)
Hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer owns the company, and in had Steve Bannon, Breitbart’s founder, as an advisor on data collection efforts. When Bannon went on to become one of Trump’s key advisors in the early stages of his presidency, Bannon brought Cambridge Analytica’s resources with him.
Wylie claimed in interviews with media outlets in England that Facebook data collection became the cornerstone of the Cambridge Analytica’s mission.
Since the public has been made aware of the breach, Facebook’s stock has taken a nosedive, and lawsuits are flying left and right against the company, with founder Mark Zuckerman issuing a public apology and agreeing to testify before the U.S. Congress. Facebook already faces numerous lawsuits for the data breach, purported to have played a “significant” role in the 2018 U.S.
Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, Alexander Nix, told UK members of Parliament that the company did not work with Facebook data, nor do they have Facebook data. Wylie, the man who blew the whistle on the company’s work, provided investigators with a letter from Facebook’s legal eagles asking him to destroy any data collected. Facebook did not pursue the issue with Wylie, who said Facebook never followed up with him to see if he had, indeed, destroyed the data. (He did not.)
Since everything on the internet is in the public domain, when it comes to using social media, it’s a precautionary tale.