Cambridge Analytica has become a popular name within recent weeks. Here’s why it matters.
Cambridge Analytica is a firm that works with governments, NGO’s, political clients, and commercial entities. According to their mission statement, they aim "to deliver Data-Driven Behavioral Change by understanding what motivates the individual and engaging with target audiences in ways that move them to action."
The firm began working with the Trump campaign in 2016 and gained access to private information on millions of Facebook users. “Data-Drive Behavioral Change” constituted monitoring the personalities of American voters and then influencing their behavior. With the aggregated knowledge of their friend networks, likes, and identification information, Facebook users were provided with digital ads that might appeal to them. The Trump campaign has downplayed the influence of Cambridge Analytica on their role in the election, but it isn’t the impact of the data mining alone that causes controversy; it’s the fact that it occurs at all. This tactic- news of which still continues to change and arise on the daily- was brought to light in March by whistleblower Christopher Wylie, who claims to have worked with Cambridge University in gathering data.
Dr. Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian-American psychology professor at Cambridge University, began harvesting data for Cambridge Analytica in 2014. He provided 50 million raw profiles to the firm via a personality survey that users could download and take. In a process unknown to those survey-takers and since banned by Facebook, their private information, and that of their friends, was collected. Only 270,000 of those who participated in the survey consented to have data collected.
The ties between the firm and Brexit are less frequently covered. In short the U.K.’s Vote Leave campaign, which promoted the Brexit campaign, “allegedly violated election rules with a donation of hundreds of thousands of pounds that allegedly went to a firm linked to Cambridge Analytica.”
Facebook, as a site, is under fire for accountability over this data collection. The company insists that this activity does not constitute a data breach, given that researchers are permitted to access user data for academic purposes, and that users consent to this in making their accounts. Despite this, Mark Zuckerberg is being asked to testify on behalf of Facebook, given that the data collection appears to have actively affected voters, and more importantly, served as a breach of trust. Facebook has since announced an overhaul of its privacy and security features, which will permit users to find, download, and delete their data on the site.
Cambridge Analytica largely represents what it means to be part of the digital age and the concerns that average users must take into account. Their influence is long-held, and the changing news coverage that surrounds the firm daily is no less than a direct reflection of how companies like Analytica continue to change the scope of social networking.