The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica Scandal

The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica Scandal

Over the past few months, we all have been hearing about Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, but like me, there are so many people globally, who couldn’t fully grasp the complete scenario.

Why not we give a look at what all took place, why is that necessary to know and how would the branding and advertising industry undergo a change to reflect on the same. And most importantly, why have brands like SpaceX, Tesla and Playboy removed these pages, and should you?

What is Cambridge Analytica?

First, let us understand, what Cambridge Analytica is. It is a political consultancy firm based in UK, Washington DC and other high-profile areas. This firm collects data regarding the people in the political consistency of the party/candidate they are consulting and analyze the best/ideal way to market/promote that candidate or the party.

The most important thing to know here is what they did. They used the data of the users to fluctuate their political opinions and turnaround the election using their power of data mining.

What exactly took place?

What happened exactly is that a Russian-American researcher, Aleksandr Kogan who worked at the University of Cambridge at the time built a Facebook quiz app called “thisisyourdigitallife” which basically used the Facebook’s login feature. It basically was a personality test, which was taken by around 270,000 Facebook users; but the quiz not only collected the data from those who gave the tests but mined it from their Facebook friends without them even knowing about the same (which made to the 50 million profiles mark)

While Facebook’s policy prohibited the selling of data collected with this method, there were no stopgap measures put in place to prevent it and Cambridge Analytica sold the data to the Trump campaign anyway.

What’s Facebook’s fault in this?

Now that was the Cambridge Analytica’s side to the story that played out. What exactly was Facebook responsible for?

What Facebook did was that it allowed pages and apps to collect the private data and mine them in great details, all without keeping an eye out for the same. Facebook did nothing when that came out in public.

As Zuckerberg, himself said in his apology speech “This was a breach of trust. I’m sorry we couldn’t do more at the time.

This entire situation might or might not be unprecedented in the world of social media, but is definitely unprecedented in case of Big Data. As a society, we are finally realizing that all the information we share online can tell a lot more about us than we are led to believe, and all of that could easily be manipulated to skew our thinking process.

The effect on Facebook post-scandal

Facebook has obviously faced a lot of scrutiny since the time of its inception, but it was able to swap it all under the rug. The growing popularity of Facebook coupled with limited coverage of past transgressions made it easy for the company to dodge any long-lasting negative fallout related to user privacy or data mining. This time, it’s a different scenario altogether. Not only does this scandal affect a significant percentage of the user base, this time it was even politically concerning.

Things like Election tampering, censorship, fake news and all are already a major concern for most of the people out there, and obviously, this fallout would cause them to look at Facebook and other major tech companies with a much more critical lens.

Adding fuel to the fire, some of the Silicon Valley’s most prominent figures have been heavily actively firing their words against Facebook. Most notably, Elon Musk deleted his companies’ Facebook pages (Tesla and SpaceX, and add to that, WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton has too publicly encouraged the Facebook users to delete their profiles.

While Facebook’s stocks have dropped by a record amount of 20% in the past 5 months, there is not much indication about the fact that the general usage of the platform has plummeted with the same. Despite the trending hashtag#DeleteFacebook mentioned more than 50,000 times a day and a smattering of the celebrity breakups with the platform (like the ones aforementioned), it actually seems that most of the general users are not willing to actually ditch the platform already. Mark himself has mentioned that he hasn’t seen a “Meaningful number of people” deleting their accounts.

It seems that many users are waiting things out for more revelations to come to light. Account holders, would most probably be more cautious now (or at least I hope them to be, in the wake of this scandal) when using such apps inside the platform and be less willing to allow these apps to access their personal information.

What This Means for Marketers

From the marketing perspective, the Cambridge Analytica breach and the whole chaos it has left in its wake can have serious implications for the platform as a marketing tool. We can already see businesses starting to pull off their advertising on the platform. Companies like Mozilla, Sonos and more have already stopped their campaigns temporarily and taken a back-seat approach in advertising on the platform. And many other companies can easily be expected to follow suit.

The biggest concern now is how Facebook is going to move forward and deal with the advertising partners while keeping and winning back the consumer trust it has lost all over this. Till now, Facebook has carefully kept a balance between the advertising needs and the user experience. But the situation Facebook is now in, it can be totally a logical reason to expect Facebook to now shift the focus to the user experience at the expense of the advertising community.

The Changes that Facebook plans to bring

Earlier, in the past, Facebook was always more than ready to open up its user data to its advertising partners. Which in turn allowed these advertisers to target their campaigns with unprecedented (in the digital advertising space) levels of precision in terms of the demographics, user details and so on. But now, it appears that unfortunately for the advertisers, the party may be over.

Facebook has announced that from now onwards, it would require the advertisers on the platform to certify to the company that they have all the required user consent before actually launching the custom audience campaigns. Since, we all know, that the custom audience feature is one of the strongest tools available for advertising in the social media realm, this announcement is a clear signal that we can expect much bigger changes on the platform in the near future.

The platform will soon be rolling out changes that include:

  • Creating a new section at the top of the Facebook News Feed that shows what apps are using Facebook’s data, and allows revoking the permissions of those apps much easier.
  • Reducing the amount of data required when signing in to external apps via Facebook. In the past, the data included age, location, interests and more – now, it’ll only include name, profile image, and email address.
  • Automatically revoking developer’s access to data if a user hasn’t used the app for three months.
  • Investigating third-party apps that collected large amounts of data prior to 2014 and conducting audits on suspicious activity.
  • Identifying developers who have misused information and informing users who have downloaded their aps.
  • Requiring developers to get approval before accessing posts and private data.

The Effect of these changes

Though how far does the extent of these changes that Facebook might implement are yet to be known. But on the bright side, Facebook definitely now realizes how the third-party advertisers have been critical of the platform’s continued growth and unless Facebook finds a new way to monetize the platform, it’s main source and bread and butter is going to be advertising itself. So, while we can definitely expect a significant change in how Facebook is going to approach this issue and bring changes to the platform, it definitely is expected to still be a measured approach keeping in mind to still continue providing the value to the advertisers.

Meanwhile, it’s the prime time when the advertising industry has to keep a close eye on Facebook and track any changes in its advertising policies since that’s what is going to define the social media marketing in the future. The quicker these advertisers and marketers are able to understand and adapt to the flurry of changes expected to come, the more successful the early campaigns would be.

Gurmeet Singh is currently a student at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur, majoring in Computer Science and Engineering. Alongside, he also is a Marketing and Business Consultant, currently working part time as an Analyst for Brands of Desire (A Brand management consultancy based in Gurgaon). He has a penchant for writing about Business, Technology, Marketing and sometimes also dabbles in the Entertainment field. His hobbies include Reading, writing (Obviously) and cooking and he hails from Meerut (NCR New Delhi).

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