How politicians and brands are using your Facebook to exploit you

The social and economic landscape across the western world and beyond had been thrown into fresh disrepute given this week’s revelations concerning the company Cambridge Analytica and their ‘misuse’ of Facebook’s servers in the last two years. (As uncovered by the Guardian)

The Guardian has labeled the actions by Cambridge Analytica as a ‘major data breach’ in which 50 million Facebook profiles have been harvested.

In short, Cambridge Analytica was an organisation that formulated effective and efficient systems to target specifically vulnerable and susceptible individuals to political messages by harvassing Facebook user’s data to determine groups that were most likely to align themselves with certain political viewpoints.

Cambridge Analytica worked alongside Steve Bannon, a key member of the Donald Trump campaign during the 2016 US election, to target and pursue individuals whom were most likely to align themselves with certain shared Trump viewpoints by analysing personal Facebook data that had been obtained by a number of questionable means.

While these revelations have shocked the world; they are nothing new.

The detrimental political, economic and social subsequences that may come with Cambridge Analytica are perhaps unlike any other. However, politicians, brands and more using personal Facebook data to target certain individuals is nothing new nor irregular.

How?

Cambridge Analytica used a number of tools such as apps, quizzes and games that were linked to Facebook in order to obtain personal data. However, in many cases the makeup behind specifically targeted Facebook content is far easier.

Any individual in the world can use Facebook’s in-built advertising tools to target and drive content to a specific audience via filter systems such as age or location.

The reality however is that individuals, business’ and political movements can develop their own tools to exploit personal data readily available on Facebook.

Steve Bartlett is the CEO of Social Chain, one of Europe’s largest and fastest-growing social media marketing companies in Europe. Bartlett offered a damning verdict on how easy it can be to obtain and use personal data from Facebook when initiating marketing campaigns.

What about me?

Recent revelations have only highlighted the tip of the iceberg. Within Facebook every single user has a readily available and stored data file on their Facebook interaction regardless of their privacy settings and activity on Facebook.

Your own Facebook file can be obtained and downloaded by simply clicking the highlighted link below in your settings on Facebook.

There is little information provided by Facebook on who has access to your own personal data file and how safe the system and security protecting it is.

We downloaded our own personal Facebook file and the reality was daunting to day the least.

The file contains every single personal message you have ever sent, including pictures, videos and even gifs. The file is organised by further files that split your messages, photos and more into different categories.

What is perhaps most daunting about the above file is the fact that the information had been arranged in a format that conforms to easy and quick user availability.

The scale of the data issue at hand is incomprehensible and yet to be truly defined. However, with recode reporting that Facebook have lost 50 billion dollars in market capital since the data breach an inevitable statement from Mark Zuckerberg appeared on his personal Facebook just over 24 hours after the revelations had been reported by the Guardian.

What are the experts saying?

Grant Blank is the Survey Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute in the University of Oxford. Blank specialises in the political and social impact of computers and the Internet, the digital divide, statistical and qualitative methods, and cultural sociology.

 

While talking to us Blank offered a damning verdict at the lack of surprise he felt to the news concerning Cambridge Analytica and illustrated that much of the makeup behind how Facebook functions has allowed it to be used in such a way.

“The way Cambridge Analytica used Facebook is exactly the way it was designed. They did exactly what it was designed to do. And, Zuckerberg basically failed to think this through. What happens if a foreign government wants to become involved with a US election?”

Blank continues to emphasise that Cambridge Analytica have made no secret of their work on social media to help politicians and political campaigns.

“The response here on Facebook has not been particularly aggressive. The Cambridge Analytica have been dining out on the fact that Donald Trump used them in the last year. If you follow any of their public statements or public arguments about them they always work it into their statements.”

Further, it is apparent that Blank feels that Facebook have provided organisations such as Cambridge Analytica with the resources, to an extent, to produce the work they have due to Facebook’s shift to favour specific advertising between 2014 and 2015.

“It does not surprise me that someone did that because that was partly designed in between 2014 and 2015 until they change their terms of service.”

 

Billy Hodder.

 

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