Social Media User Data Scandal Raises Privacy Concerns

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Source: CBS Miami, “Facebook Admits Privacy Scandal Larger Than Thought,” miami.cbslocal.com, Apr. 5, 2018

Up to 87 million users of the social networking platform Facebook may have had their user data improperly accessed by the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, according to an announcement by Facebook on Apr. 4, 2018. News reports had previously revealed that the personal data of nearly 50 million Facebook users were improperly accessed by Cambridge Analytica for use in creating targeted political advertisements during the 2016 presidential election.

Although it was revealed in 2015 that Cambridge Analytica had gained access to Facebook user data information via Aleksandr Kogan, a researcher at Cambridge University who created a personality quiz application for Facebook users, the extent of the data leak was not publicly known at the time.

According to a Mar. 21, 2018 post by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the application created by Aleksandr Kogan “was installed by around 300,000 people who shared their data as well as some of their friends’ data,” but “given the way our platform worked at the time this meant Kogan was able to access tens of millions of their friends’ data.” Even though Zuckerberg says Facebook banned Kogan’s app immediately upon learning that data had been shared without consent, he also said in a public statement on Apr. 4, “But it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough. We didn’t focus enough on preventing abuse and thinking through how people could use these tools to do harm as well. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, hate speech, in addition to developers and data privacy.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke in favor of stronger privacy regulations, stating, “I think that this certain situation is so dire and has become so large that probably some well-crafted regulation is necessary… The ability of anyone to know what you’ve been browsing about for years, who your contacts are, who their contacts are, things you like and dislike and every intimate detail of your life — from my own point of view it shouldn’t exist.”

Mike Schroepfer, Chief Technology Officer at Facebook, released a statement on Apr. 4, 2018 announcing a series of changes to Facebook’s privacy and data gathering practices to “better protect people’s information while still enabling developers to create useful experiences,” and also stated that “we know we have more work to do.”

As of 2018, about 68% of adults in the United States use Facebook, according to the Pew Research Center. Worldwide, there are over 2.2 billion active Facebook users. Mark Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify about data privacy issues before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Apr. 11.


Sources:

Bloomberg News, “Apple’s Tim Cook Calls for More Regulations on Data Privacy,” Bloomberg.com, Mar. 23, 2018

Michael Chertoff, “At Stake in Cambridge Analytica Scandal? Not Just Privacy, but Freedom Itself: Chertoff,” usatoday.com, Apr. 3, 2018

Cecilia Kang and Sheera Frenkel, “Facebook Says Cambridge Analytica Harvested Data of up to 87 Million Users,” nytimes.com, Apr. 4, 2018

Matthew Rosenberg, Nicholas Confessore, and Carole Cadwalladr, “How Trump Consultants Exploited the Facebook Data of Millions,” nytimes.com, Mar. 17, 2018

Mike Schroepfer, “An Update on Our Plans to Restrict Data Access on Facebook,” newsroom.fb.com, Apr. 4, 2018

Aaron Smith and Monica Anderson, “Social Media Use in 2018,” pewinternet.org, Mar. 1, 2018

Statista, “Number of Monthly Active Facebook Users Worldwide as of 4th Quarter 2017 (in Millions),” statista.com (accessed Apr. 5, 2018)

Greg Walden and Frank Pallone, Jr., “E&C Announces Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Will Testify April 11th,” energycommerce.house.gov, Apr. 4, 2018

Mark Zuckerberg, “Hard Questions: Q&A with Mark Zuckerberg on Protecting People’s Information,” facebook.com, Apr. 4, 2018

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook post, facebook.com, Mar. 21, 2018