If you’ve ever seen the film ‘The Social Network’ you’ll be acutely aware of the journey that Mark Zuckerberg took to make Facebook the success it is today. Not shy of controversy, its CEO is once again back in the headlines, this time over a breach of personal data, that has affected a reported 87 million users.
The scandal surrounds ‘Cambridge Analytica’ a data analytics company that is alleged to have used unauthorised personal data from Facebook profiles, to target US voters in the lead up to the USA Presidential election. Some argue that this profiling helped elect President Trump to the White House. The claims are worsened by an undercover report by Channel 4 which captures its CEO, Alexander Nix, talking off-guard about their unorthodox tactics.
In the wake of the scandal, Facebook has been held up for its actions.
Zuckerberg faced a five-hour interview with US Congress. Under questioning he admitted that Facebook should not have taken their word for it when Cambridge Analaytica said they would stop using personal information. The warning served by Senator Bill Nelson concluded that: “If Facebook and other online companies will not or cannot fix the privacy invasions, then we are going to have to. We, the Congress.”
This warning sends out a message to Facebook and other tech companies in Silicon Valley, to maintain the integrity of customer data
It is being followed up by a US consumer protection body, investigating whether the company did in fact violate privacy agreements.
Consumers fight back
However, it has not just been officials who have responded to the incident.
In the aftermath of the scandal, Facebook saw billions of dollars wiped off its share price. While #DeleteFacebook was trending online, not helped by influencers such as Elon Musk wading in to the debate:
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 23, 2018
It’s hard to anticipate the knock-on effect this scandal might have on the way social networks use personal data. Some anticipate regulatory changes, others demand greater accountability for the unanswered questions.
But, if nothing else, it has certainly made us all pay attention to the way data is shared. As Vanity Fair concludes: “The company has been harvesting data for commercial purposes for years. It’s only now, in a Trumpian universe, that people are comprehending the profound consequences of that power.”
One hope is that this scandal will lead to greater transparency, for all in the future.
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