Pandora’s box has been opened and the spirits of the Web are invading the world. It exploded with the force of a deflagration postponed for far too long, involving national governments and authorities worldwide. What is it all about and why are we all involved? Let us try to pull together the threads.
How the case came to be and why. It all began with two investigative journalism reports of the New York Times and The Observer, published on March 17, focused on the activity of British data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica specialised in data collection of social network users harvested for election campaigns. It was thus revealed that in 2013 Aleksandr Kogan, a researcher of Cambridge University, developed
a Facebook app called “thisisyourdigitallife,” to generate personality profiles of users by analysing their online behaviour, notably their “Likes” on Facebook.
Knowing everything with a few likes. The algorithm used by Cambridge Analytica to facilitate “micro-targeting” was developed by another researcher at the British university who claimed to be able to
profile a user by analysing only 50 likes.
Accordingly, the analysis of 170 likes can predict the users’ ethnicity, their sexual orientation and political affiliation, while at 300 likes user information is comparable to that of a family member.
Trump vs Clinton: 2016 presidential election. If a marketing company collects such an extensive and detailed archive on such a high number of users, it is to sell it to the highest bidder.
And that’s when the scandal broke out: in fact it appears that Cambridge Analytica services were retained in over forty elections worldwide to influence voters. These include the US Presidential elections in 2016 that led to the victory of Donald Trump.
Nothing new under the sun, considering that Barack Obama could have benefited from similar extraordinary propaganda efforts online when he was elected to the White House. In the meantime, data-collection technology advanced further and the line separating the lawful from the unlawful faded to the point of virtually disappearing.
Zuckerberg’s version and ongoing investigations. Facebook broke a long period of silence, interrupted by a short and generic disclaimer, on March 21, when Mark Zuckerberg published a long post admitting his “mistakes” and announcing further restrictions to data access: “I started Facebook, and at the end of the day I’m responsible for what happens on our platform. I’m serious about doing what it takes to protect our community.”
The public statement followed troubled days for the social media company that
lost 9 billion euro on the stock market in 48 hours
and is being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission that could trigger up to 3 billion dollars in fines ( third-party access to Facebook user data is forbidden). While investigations into connections with the Russiagate scandal are ongoing, and Zuckerberg was summoned by the European Parliament, the widely-circulating hashtag #deletefacebook urges users to delete their Facebook accounts.