The world’s largest social network and its founder are under growing scrutiny following news this weekend that a data firm with ties to the Trump campaign reportedly gained access to the personal information of 50 million Facebook users. The backlash concerns user privacy and the methods the social giant uses to protect user data—and Mark Zuckerberg could ultimately face the Senate Judiciary committee to explain the extent to which his company knew its data was being used “to target political advertising and manipulate voters.“
The data firm in question is Cambridge Analytica, founded by GOP elite players Stephen Bannon and big party donor Robert Mercer, which The New York Times reported was using the Facebook data for so-called psychographic modeling—to identify the “personalities“ of voters so it could influence their behavior.
Politics aside, the scandal shines a perhaps unwelcome light on a systemic problem for Facebook—the fact that the social network is in the business of data exploitation, profiting from harvesting users’ data and selling it to other parties like app developers and advertisers. CNN goes as far as to refer to the situation as an “existential crisis” for Facebook.
Why is this a Facebook crisis?
Because the real issue is that Cambridge Analytica didn’t break any laws, and the data harvesting was not a “breach“ of any kind—everything happened perfectly above board and completely in line with Facebook‘s own policies (even though Facebook reportedly did not authorize the sharing of this data with third parties).
If you are a Facebook user, in other words, your personal information is ripe for the picking— and Facebook is not only allowing it, it is making money off your data.
In an effort to “save face,” Facebook announced this weekend that it had suspended the data firm for illegally accessing user data—but BGR Media asserts that the move was purely an image-management statement, designed to make us think that Facebook was taken advantage of. But “don’t think for one second that Facebook is a victim in this whole … mess,“ writes BGR’s Chris Smith. “Facebook knew about this ‘hack’ for years and never acknowledged it until now.“
That’s right, part of Facebook‘s revenue method is to make user data available to other parties, often for unknown reasons. It kind of makes you wonder if Facebook‘s social media empire is really more of a “social disease”—and whether you want to be a part of it.